Every Earth Day I hear about the three R’s – reduce, reuse, recycle – as steps we can take to care for our Earth. Children learn about it in school. Nature parks teach it. Waste management companies promote it. It’s everywhere on the internet. While these are effective and well-intentioned actions, the R’s have always seemed a little vapid to me. It’s definitely good to reduce, reuse and recycle the tons of plastic, paper, glass, electricity, oil, paint and aluminum that we use in our lives. But for me, Earth Day calls me to go deeper, beyond committing to better manage my waste. It calls me to challenge myself (and those in my spiritual community) to reflect on and contemplate who we are in relationship to Earth and how we can honestly live in reverence.
Since the beginning of time, our ancestors told stories that illustrated the ideal human-Earth relationship and our fall from it. The creation story in the Bible is one of myriad creation stories from cultures around the world, each explaining how things came to be – the skies, the waters, vegetation, the flying animals, the swimming animals, the land animals and humankind.
In the first chapter of Genesis, all of Creation was spoken into existence by Elohim (commonly translated as God). Humankind was the last to be spoken into existence, created in the image of God – both male and female – with the ability to reflect, and with responsibility to care for Life Itself (Genesis 1:26-27). Humankind was given “every sort of seed-bearing plant on Earth and every kind of fruit-bearing tree” as food, and all beings lived in harmony with each other (Genesis 1:29). Elohim declared it all to be good (Genesis 1:31).
Painting by Dan Reidel
It’s no accident that this story has been told and retold for hundreds of generations. It’s our story. An Eden-like state, where all beings live in harmony, may seem like an unrealistic and unattainable Utopia. But it’s actually a distant and vague memory. It resonates inside us like a faint melody playing under the layers of our psyche – layers that hold tight to entrenched, inherited beliefs in our separation/domination/superiority regarding the rest of Creation. These beliefs are what keep us outside the gates of Eden. Yet despite our beliefs and the corresponding actions we take against ourselves and nature, the faint melody continues to whisper deep within us, unceasing. At some unconscious level, we know it is our Truth. We know Eden is a place in our consciousness from which we feel cut-off, as if we’ve strayed too far and are simply unable (or forbidden) to return.
Eden calls to us.
I believe there is a way back to ourselves and to living as One. I certainly have no road map for it. I’m just as enmeshed in our separation culture and as befuddled about where we find ourselves today as the next person. But I know solutions don’t work when they come from the same level of consciousness that created the problem. Solutions rooted in separation won’t solve separation! I also know that what we see in the world is a projection of what is inside us – the good, the bad and the ugly. So, the only honest leverage we have to produce lasting change in the world requires us to change ourselves. This is a very personal journey to a higher level of consciousness for each of us. It’s a hero’s journey, back to ourselves.
To guide us on our hero’s journey I’d like to offer a few new R’s for consideration:
Recognize the spiritual meaning of the story. Whatever our views of God are, there is an animating force under all of Creation – some metaphorical ‘breath’ that brought It into existence. Whether it took place in one fell swoop as creationists believe or over eons as evolutionists believe, it doesn’t matter. There is a brilliant Life-force under all that is. It is creative and Good. We can call it whatever we want, but in this story, it is called God. The Earth and all life forms, including us, were brought into existence in Balance and Harmony. And we hold that potential within us.
Remember our Truth. We are created in God’s image and likeness. God is not a being separate from Creation, but the energy of it – the energy out of which everything came into being; the power that reflected upon it and declared it to be Good. As image and likeness, we are not separate from Creation, but of it. We hold the power to ensure its Goodness, not because the rest of Creation needs us, but because we are gifted with the capacity to reflect upon it and know it to be Good. Our truth is Oneness.
Restore ourselves as Love, Compassion and Kindness. Somewhere along our evolutionary road, we became uncaring and even cruel. Our belief in separation allowed fear, scarcity and the need to have power over others to take over our minds and hearts like a cancer. We neglected Love, Kindness and Compassion. Or we held them tightly and gave them life only within our personal spheres. But Love, Kindness and Compassion – all expressions of the Infinite Divine – desire to reach far beyond our personal selves, beyond our families, friends and neighbors. They call us to be loving, kind and compassionate toward all of Creation, with no boundaries, indiscriminately – beyond our species.
Refrain from harming any living being. Our separation consciousness wreaks havoc everywhere. We have invented all sorts of ways to inflict harm on others including oppression, exploitation, abuse, confinement, enslavement, torture and killing. Most of us believe ourselves to be vehemently opposed to all that, and most of us don’t harm each other in these ways. But most of us do harm animals – God’s Creation – for our daily wants, not even for our needs. We mass produce them in unnatural conditions so we can eat their bodies. We take their babies so we can drink their excretions. We take their skins for our shoes, purses, belts and coats. We pull out their feathers for our fashion and décor. We use their eyes and skin to test the toxicity of household products, medicines and cosmetics. We force them to perform for us. We destroy their natural habitats. We discard garbage that maims or kills them. We have the erroneous thought that their bodies are ours to use or are inconsequential. They are not. They have inherent value independent of us. Harmony and our original nature will always elude us while we are hurting and killing others.
Revere Creation. Merriam Webster defines reverence as “profound adoring awed respect.” Reverence demands alertness. Most of us are preoccupied with our own life dramas, the allure of electronic devices, the lives of celebrities and political leaders, and the events taking place in our minds. We walk around essentially asleep to the impacts of our own actions and to the wonder of Life Itself. When we awaken to the wonder of every being, we can see the value in every being. We can see that everyone wants to live and sing their song in their own way. From the magpie to the oak tree to the honey bee to the salamander to the lilac to the elephant to the pig, cow, lamb and chicken, we are profoundly blessed when we stand in awe of who they each are and what they are here to teach us. Every being is a gift.
Resolve to live a life of prayer. Prayer is something that has been misunderstood for eons. If we pray at all, we usually pray in a beseeching way pleading for God to make something happen. That is what separation consciousness does. It puts God outside of us. If we practice praying from Oneness consciousness, it’s a whole different ball game. We elevate our consciousness to align with God Mind, or Oneness, and know, realize, claim and declare what is spiritually true but not yet manifested. This is also called believing before receiving or faithfully holding an intention. We can know together that humanity is awakening. We can know together that Harmony is being restored. We can know together that solutions are being made known to us. This is how healing happens. From a consciousness of Oneness we can also be in powerful action – signing petitions, demonstrating, supporting sanctuaries, etc. – without condemning or judging others. No matter what we do, it is essential that we act as Love, Kindness and Compassion. Hate, disgust and fighting separate. They never heal or move us forward. And the world doesn’t need another ounce of it.
Recreate our world. Every day that we wake up to our Truth, and move from separation to Oneness consciousness, we recreate our world. Even if the rest of the world hasn't budged an inch, the change within us matters because we are all connected. When one of us rises in consciousness, we impact the whole. By our example we also encourage others to join the journey. And as more of us join this inner journey, a tipping point will be reached and we will see a new world begin to emerge.
The faint song of Eden is calling us to return. Can you hear it?
“God spoke: ‘Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature so they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, and, yes, Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.’ God created human beings; he created them godlike, Reflecting God's nature. He created them male and female. Then God said, ‘I've given you every sort of seed-bearing plant on Earth And every kind of fruit-bearing tree, given them to you for food.’ God looked over everything he had made; it was so good, so very good!” The Message Bible Genesis 1:26-27, 29, 31
Note: I will write more extensively in later posts about the Hero's Journey and affirmative prayer and how we can use both these tools to heal our relationship with Creation. Thank you for reading.
© carol saunders 2018
Easter morning met me with a gorgeous Wisconsin sunrise. Bright orange and pink hues lit up the horizon. I am blessed to have tall pines in my back yard and a lake in the distance. There’s no prettier sunrise. After taking in its magnificence, I did what I do every Sunday morning - I readied myself for The Spiritual Forum and drove 100 miles to Deerfield, Illinois to lead it. I planned for my spiritual community to be in dialogue on the Easter themes of Hope, Resurrection and New Life.
We had a thought-provoking dialogue on the meaning of Easter, the transcendent power of Love and the different ways Resurrection shows up in our own lives. At the end of our gathering, I invited people to join me for an Easter lunch at a nearby vegan restaurant. I was excited to have a willing group. As usual though, I got caught up in conversation with a lingering crowd, and my lunch companions left before me. By the time I gathered my things and was ready to go, I was running late.
I got in my car and made my way to a heavily trafficked road that would take me to my destination. As I was driving, I spotted a large robin plopped down in the middle of the oncoming lane. It was a strange sight. He was upright, but motionless, and clearly didn’t belong there. As I passed, I looked for signs of life in him in my rearview mirror. He was still slumped on the ground. It just took a second or two for my mind to race between the thoughts “He’ll be fine – I’m late and need to keep going,” and “There’s a helpless robin in the middle of the road and a lot of cars are coming!” Thankfully, the helpless robin voice won my heart. I had to get to him before the oncoming cars could, so I made a rapid U-turn and headed back his way.
As I approached, I slowed my car down, then stopped in the middle of the road and put my emergency lights on. My little Mini Cooper would now be the protective barrier for both of us as I did what was mine to do. Multiple cars behind mine started backing up and drivers were honking and gesticulating at me. I guess that’s normal anywhere but it’s very normal in Chicago. Whatever. I had a mission. I reached down and cupped my hands around the seemingly lifeless bird. I held him for a brief moment; then his wings started to flutter! I tightened my hold a little, concerned that he might stumble into oncoming traffic on the other side. But I could sense that he was ready for freedom, so I gently opened my hands. The little guy woke up and flew off to perch on a bush on the side of the road. He was alive! And safe for now. I waved to all the angry drivers and got back on the road to meet my friends for lunch.
I felt good. In just a few moments, one small life was saved from impending doom. While I know he was probably stunned from having flown into a windshield, his limp body – which regained life in my hands – had taken flight. It was a resurrection of sorts – the power of New Life. And it happened on Easter!
It reminded me of a scene from a movie I had seen two days earlier - the 1999 production of “Jesus” starring Jeremy Sisto. In it, the child Jesus brings a dead bird back to life. It’s an endearing scene and not an event you will find in the New Testament gospels. But I like to think that the man who grew to embody the Love of God so purely and become the Master teacher that he became, was awake to our connection with all beings as a child. I was. Why wouldn’t he have been?
The Easter message is about Hope, Resurrection, New Life and the power of Love that transcends everything. The message continues to ring out today. Can you hear it? When you look for it, you will see the power of Resurrection at work in everyday life. It can show up as a second chance at life, like it did for my robin, or a rebirth of our consciousness to a new and higher level of awareness. Every day we have the opportunity to give a second chance at life to animals who are slated for death. We can exclude ourselves from the act of hurting them by eating a plant-based diet and not buying products that use them in other ways. We can die to an old way of thinking/doing/being and rise up to a new awareness of our Oneness with ALL Life. Love will lead us. The Easter message reminds us that there is indeed Hope for the awakening of humankind.
At the end of the day, I took my 100-mile trek home and as I pulled into my driveway, the sun was beginning to set with the same magnificence as it rose. I was grateful that I was clear-hearted enough to turn my car around earlier that day to bring a little more Love to the planet. Yes, I ended up being late for lunch, and I probably made the people who had to stop a little late for wherever they were going. But the robin lives another day to sing his song of Hope.
“I am the resurrection and the life.” John 11:25
© carol saunders 2018
Of note, I did not take photographs of this event while I was holding up traffic! I found images that approximated my experience. Thank you for reading.
Last week I lost one of my cats, Ben. It was sudden and premature. He was just 3 ½ years old. Ben was one of five kittens I spotted off the Interstate highway one brisk October afternoon while speeding by at 75 miles per hour. “Kittens!” I exclaimed while pointing off the road to the right. My husband, who was a little skeptical but willing to appease me, pulled off the exit and we ventured down the feeder road in search of what I thought looked like kittens. And to our surprise there they were, out in the open with their tiny heads poking out from the recently cut wild grass. I leapt out of the car and rushed toward them. Right away I was able to scoop up three tabbies (all with big feet!) while two tiny black ones started to venture into the deeper thicket. I grabbed one of them and stuffed him in my coat with his brothers. His twin had another idea and successfully evaded capture. But with a great deal of tenacity (and willingness to put my arm into what seemed like a badger hole) I ended up grabbing him too -- 24 hours later -- and we gave them all a “temporary” home in our garage.
What a gift these little guys were! Having just left our youngest daughter at college that fateful October morning, we were in the throes of figuring out how to live as empty nesters. We had successfully raised three human daughters. Now I was blessed with five new sons. Needless to say, we ended up keeping them all.
Ben was the adorable little grey kitten who grew to be the big, loppy, laid back cat. He outweighed each of his brothers by two pounds and was a friendly one -- not over-the-top, gushy-friendly like his brother George, but also not shy like John, elusive like Schrodinger, or skittish like Ross. He was just a likable guy. Every morning before breakfast, I would sit with the boys. And every morning Ben would be the first to come up to me, put his big front paws on my legs, pause there for a bit, and then roll on the ground for a belly rub. He was the only one who did that.
It’s heartbreaking to lose a companion animal. We lost Schrodinger over a year ago when he mysteriously escaped in the middle of winter, never to return. Schrodinger was always a free spirit. He was the one who evaded me for a day, preferring to hole himself up in the brush and attempt to survive on his own as a six-week-old kitten. He was a smart, independent and savvy cat, so he probably found his way to a new kind of home. But it’s been difficult for me every day not knowing if he was okay. Now with Ben’s passing, my heart broke open to fully mourn them both.
Most people understand the hole that a pet leaves in the heart. Most of us have experienced that helpless feeling of raw heartbreak. I was grateful to receive many condolences and sweet messages from friends and family who understood my loss. But I couldn’t help but wonder, if our humanity calls us to reach out and empathize with a fellow human who has lost a pet, why doesn’t our humanity also call us to honor the lives and mourn the passing of all animals?
Cats and dogs -- which we in the United States consider to be pets and dote over -- are food animals in other countries. Tens of thousands are slaughtered and eaten every day. We find that to be an abhorrent practice, but we do the same thing to chickens, turkeys, goats, sheep, pigs, horses, ducks, rabbits and cows. These are the nameless and faceless ones. They hold no meaning to anyone beyond their utility for human consumption.
But what is the difference really between my beloved Ben and the unfortunate hen who is killed so that her breast can be consumed by one of us in a matter of minutes? They both want to live. They both have inherent value. They both deserve a kind hand and heart.
All beings do. My heart breaks for all of them.
Unfortunately, I didn’t understand what was wrong with Ben until it was too late. His kidneys ended up failing and he passed in the night at the vet's office. It felt awful that he was alone. I wasn’t there and I wasn't able to save him.
I am also not able to save the millions of animals who, every hour of every day, are senselessly killed by the hands of my fellow humans in this country alone. And how much I want to save them all. If only I could break open the hearts of people -- so that we could all wake up, feel the genuine depth of our humanity and remember that we are all connected and we ALL deserve kindness, appreciation and love. That is my dream, my prayer, my work and my soul’s sincere desire.
The morning after Ben died, I sat down with my remaining three boys. I was exhausted from grief. Strangely, John -- the shy one who would rather rub his body up against an inanimate object 10 feet away from me while I love on his more extraverted brothers -- came right up next to me. He purred and rubbed his body against mine. Then he put his big front paws up on my legs, just like Ben. He had never done that before and he hasn’t done it since. Was it Ben’s spirit telling me he was okay? Was it John sensing I needed comforting? Or maybe John was feeling that there was now more space for him to be affectionate. I don’t know. But there’s more going on in the hearts and minds of animals than we know. They each have something to tell us, something to share, some sense of meaning to activate in our hearts.
A summer morning with the boys.
I miss my two boys. And every day I mourn the loss of the billions of animals who suffer at the hands of humans and are faceless and nameless to most everyone in the world.
We ALL deserve to live in the heart of someone.
Thank you, dear Ben, for living a good life and breaking my heart open with your parting. My broken heart connects me deeply with the suffering of others. And that’s a good thing.
© carol saunders 2018
Today marks the beginning of the Season for Nonviolence - 64 days between the dates that memorialize the assassination of Mohandas Gandhi (January 30) and Martin Luther King, Jr. (April 4). This season was established in 1998 by Arun Gandhi, son of Mohandas Gandhi, as a yearly event celebrating the philosophies of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Both of these men boldly used the power of Nonviolence in their movements toward Freedom.
For both men, the people they led faced horrific oppression by the forces in power. Oppression is a violent activity, and the human response to violence is normally to fight back or surrender to it. But Gandhi and King led their respective populations in a different way, calling them to a higher level of conscious action – nonviolent resistance.
Today we applaud the leadership of these great men and hold them in high esteem for what they were able to accomplish through nonviolent action. We seek to emulate what they taught and practiced. Through them, we know that the road to Peace begins with seeing no ‘other.’ It then calls us to overcome our tendency toward retribution, make nonviolent choices, and ultimately act in loving ways. It’s not an easy path. Gandhi and King both knew that any expression of violence perpetuates more violence; it is counterproductive. Its ugly energy compounds itself whether its underlying motivation is hate, greed, domination, fear, anger, lust or power.
But if we truly want to live in a peaceful world, we have a long road ahead of us. There are widespread forms of oppression and exploitation - which we do not see or want to know about - rampant on the planet today. In fact, we want so much to pretend they don’t exist, we have established comprehensive systems to keep them entirely out of sight.
An immense population today suffers horrific oppression and exploitation. They are not a minority. There are 70 billion* of them. At the hands of their oppressors they are marginalized, abused, exploited, oppressed and murdered. This population has no voice, and isn’t wired for violent retaliation in the same way we humans are. In fact, they are generally quite docile and completely innocent of any wrongdoing.
They are our animal brothers and sisters who we use for food.
These 70 billion animals suffer mightily at our hands simply because we like the taste of their their bodies and the look and feel of their skins, fur and feathers. If you don’t believe it, take a look here, here and here.
Most of us would be appalled if we witnessed humans being harmed and exploited in the same way that we routinely and nonchalantly harm and exploit animals. But since birth, we have been fed propaganda about animals. Propaganda is underneath all oppression and exploitation. It serves to help us feel okay about ourselves when we harm, exploit and kill others, because it convinces us that the lives of our victims have little or no value. The propaganda that we have been fed includes these ideas: ‘Animals are stupid,’ ‘They were created for us,' 'Their purpose is to feed us,' ‘They don’t suffer,’ ‘They aren’t as important as we are (so what happens to them doesn't matter),’ ‘Our bodies need their meat for protein and their milk for strong bones,’ ‘Humans are designed to consume animal products,' ‘Humans have always eaten animals and always will,’ ‘The spirits within animals offer themselves to us as a sacrifice,’ 'When we eat meat it's no different from what Native Americans did,' 'Animals live on happy farms (so killing them is okay),' and ‘Killing animals is just a part of life because we have to live.’
None of these are true statements. They are simply beliefs or ideas that were fed to us by our parents or culture.
Because we've accepted these beliefs, we have culturally normalized egregious violence against innocents. And as our human population has grown, the scope and number of victims is beyond what any of us could ever imagine. It is estimated that 60 billion land animals and one trillion** sea animals are killed as food on our planet every year, all while there is an abundance of healthy, plant-based alternatives readily available. That's an astounding level of completely unnecessary violence. It amounts to 33,612 lives taken every second. But it is much bigger than even that, because so many deaths aren't even counted.
Every violent act impacts the planet and all of us living here. How could it not? We are interconnected, and the energy of violence doesn't just disappear.
It is time to take a look at ourselves and seriously ask:
If we can live well without harming other beings, why wouldn’t we?
As we enter the Season for Nonviolence, now is a good time to begin making new choices. Allow the next 64 days to open your eyes, mind and heart and lead you to the path of nonviolent action. Gandhi taught, "Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind." It is. It is also the greatest and most noble way to live.
You can begin by taking steps to be kind to yourself and extend Mercy and Compassion to ALL others. Awaken to your interconnectedness with all Life. Withdraw your participation in unnecessary violence of any form. Diligently work on breaking the habit of using animals for food, clothing and entertainment, and being cause in any way of their endless suffering. Remember they are sentient beings, who desire life the same as you and I. Know that any action you take in this direction has a direct and profound impact on the world. You will single handedly bring the worst forms of violence on our planet down a notch. The world will edge closer to Peace. You will influence others. And you will love yourself for it.
So will your animal brothers and sisters.
Thank you Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. for showing us the power of Nonviolence. Now let's take the step we've been avoiding.
May all beings know Peace.
© carol saunders 2018
* Compassion in World Farming Strategic Plan 2013-2017
** "Why We Must Respect the Rights of All Sentient Animals" by Gary L. Francione and Anna E. Charlton, January 28, 2018
Note from the author: If while reading this post your mind has gone to the question, 'What about plants? If I eat less meat I'll be killing more plants...they also want to live," here are a couple sites to check out:
On the day we set aside to honor Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr, I think we all pause and reflect on the man, his vision, mission, and message. Who isn’t inspired by his passionate call to action? Rev. King was a master at blending passion and words to inspire change in the hearts of people. He invigorated us with an evolved vision for our world - a vision of truth, justice and liberty for ALL. His voice emboldened a community of people who had been oppressed, exploited and marginalized for 340 years, a community that in many ways is still fighting the good fight.
There are rare times in history when the message transcends the man. Even though King lived and shared his message at a specific time and place and to a specific audience, it is as though he is still alive and speaking to us all today. We feel this way because his words transcend the personal. They are Universal Truths. And Universal Truths always inspire us to become better humans.
For me, many of the Universal Truths spoken by Rev. King are at the core of my own beliefs and the behaviors I strive to emulate. They inform my mission. And they resonate with the God voice within that calls me to rise up and speak about a new world – a world of truth, justice and liberty for ALL, one of Universal Love and Peace.
Sunrise by the Ocean by Vladimir Kush
Yes, I too have a dream - that one day humans awaken to their Oneness with ALL that is, and act with Kindness and Compassion toward every sentient being; that no sentient being is treated like a thing, but is seen as a someone worthy of moral consideration, and is freed from exploitation.
The lives of our animal brothers and sisters matter. A loving and peaceful future world demands that we change our ways and our relationship to them. I've seen the Promised Land. And I am committed to giving voice to it.
As I do the important work that God has called me to do, I stand firmly on these powerful words of Rev. King:
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
“I am concerned about a better world. I'm concerned about justice. I'm concerned about brotherhood. I'm concerned about truth. And when one is concerned about these, he can never advocate violence.”
“We have before us the glorious opportunity to inject a new dimension of love into the veins of our civilization.”
“And when I speak of love I’m not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality.”
"Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over and I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people will get to the promised land!"
Like Jesus whose central message was, “Love one another,” Martin Luther King was an agent of Love on this planet. The question before us is, “How far can we extend our Love?” Does it have to end at the boundary between races? Of course not. Does it have to end at the boundary between species? No, it absolutely does not. Divine Love knows no bounds. It is infinite.
I feel grateful that my time on this earth had some overlap with the life of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. I was just nine years old when he died, but aware enough to know that a great, great soul left this plane. His essence remains with us today and his flame will likely never expire. Nearly 50 years after his death, we are still at work trying to manifest the dream he inspired us to envision. And we are still struggling to fully embrace the power of Love.
Love will always call to us. Its voice will never wane. And Love knows that there is more for us to do, and more of us to consider. We have a journey ahead of us. And a lot of inspiration to fuel it.
© carol saunders 2018
If you would like to join me in reducing violence on this planet and doing the least harm possible, here are some links to get your started:
It’s that time once again when we greet each other with the celebratory words, “Happy New Year!” When a new year dawns, we get to let go of the past and begin again. Of course, we have that opportunity every day, but there is something about the New Year that gives us pause. We stop and consider what we want our lives to look like going forward. We make resolutions and set new intentions.
What do you want your life to look like? What are you willing to do about it? What new beginning is calling to you?
Those who are on the spiritual path are always interested in creating a more peaceful and loving world, personally and collectively. A sure way to create a life of greater Peace and Harmony is to take steps toward living in integrity - undivided - with who we say we are and what we say we believe. There is no faster path to inner Peace.
It’s quite simple. If you value Peace, refrain from violence in every possible way. If you value Compassion, strive to be compassionate to all. If you value Kindness and Love, strive to act in kind and loving ways. If you value family, do all you can to support keeping families healthy and together. If you believe in Oneness, honor the golden rule and live as One.
This seems like a no-brainer. We all know this! But every day, many of us make choices and engage in practices that are in direct opposition to our values and beliefs. These choices often show up in our relationships and cause friction with family members, co-workers, neighbors or strangers we don't even know. When this happens, we can see that we are out of integrity and make kinder choices next time.
But there are other ways we live out of integrity that are extremely harmful, completely hidden and pervasive. Yet they are right in front of us on our plates and in our wardrobe.
Living in integrity with your values and beliefs is the kindest thing you can do for yourself. When your behaviors align with your values and beliefs, your life expands in extraordinary ways. You are fundamentally happier with yourself. You are far less bothered by the craziness of the world. You may even stop feeling victimized and petty about situations that are out of your control. Once you dispel the inner dissonance between who you say you are and what you do, you stop projecting what you unconsciously don’t like about yourself onto others. You become much less annoyed with yourself, so you become less annoyed with the world. That is the enormity of the gift of living in integrity.
Is it time for you to commit to a life of spiritual integrity? If it is, let Spirit know that you are willing to see what you have blocked from your view up to now so you can get back in alignment.
Start by looking at your everyday lifestyle. This is something you have complete control over. Learn the truth about the way your food gets to your plate. Learn how industrialized farms (which are required to produce the sheer volume of meat we eat) treat animals as if they were machinery, not sentient beings with personal interests. Learn the truth about the lives of chickens, pigs, turkeys, cows and fish (yes, fish) that we choose to eat. Learn the truth about eggs and milk, leather, wool and down, foie gras and veal. Learn how in most cases we are actually killing and eating babies. Learn about the myth of free-range, humane and organic labels. Take an honest look at the violence of the slaughterhouse. Learn about the intelligence of our animal brothers and sisters, who are so much more like us than they are different from us. Learn how we don't need meat for protein. Learn about the debilitating impact of the animal using business on slaughterhouse workers, sanitation crews, rural communities and the environment. And learn about the connection between world hunger and our meat addiction.
Open your heart and mind and be willing to see how all this is way out of integrity with who you say you are and what you say you believe.
(As a side note, your ego will come up with all sorts of reasons why you shouldn't look at these links. Did you notice? There's always enough time to awaken. Do your own research if you are skeptical.)
There is another path to be on that is aligned with your truth.
Awaken to all the amazing ways you can eat healthy, plant-based foods that cause much less harm, and tread much lighter on the planet and on the hearts of humans and animals alike.
Then make the choice that is aligned with Peace, Compassion, Kindness, Love and Oneness.
If after all that you still find thoughts inside you like, “But it’s just a chicken,” remember that we create with our thoughts. As we look out at the world, what we see is a picture of our collective thoughts – the good, the bad and the ugly. When we see marginalization, oppression and exploitation, it is because they exist in our consciousness. The thought under all marginalization, oppression and exploitation is that the "other" is in some way "less than" we are. And under that is likely “I’m not good enough.” We’ve seen the effect of these destructive thoughts in the horror of concentration camps and in the unthinkable justification of human slavery. We see it today in racism, sexism and ageism.
Watch your thoughts as they relate to others. Are they in line with your beliefs about Oneness and Universal Love? You may think they are, but nearly all of us have been trained to draw a stark line at the human animal interface. Our circle of Oneness has traditionally stopped at our own kind - our own species - with animals (unless they are our household pets) being placed outside our moral consideration. What gives us license to exploit animals for our own desires?
Nothing but a thought.
The thought, "It’s just a chicken," justifies our choice to hurt her and deprive her of freedom, her family and her life. The same kind of thought has been used to justify marginalization, oppression and exploitation of human brothers and sisters for millennia. We inherit these kinds of thoughts from parents or culture, and are trained to believe them.
But we are creative beings, not bound by the past or what we have been taught to think and believe. We can change that thought as well as many others, and consequently change the world - because the thoughts we hold about others are the building blocks of our society. Marginalization, oppression and exploitation of any group keeps those energies alive in the world. And that fundamentally isn't what we want or who we want to be.
Once again, a New Year has dawned. A new beginning is calling. You have the opportunity before you to grow in consciousness, awareness and right action. And you have within you all the Strength and Wisdom to do it.
Resolve this year to live in spiritual integrity. Look for new ways to align your behaviors with your values and beliefs. Be open to seeing what you have not yet been able to see about yourself. Be willing to change your thoughts. Be in action – in all ways and to all beings - as Peace, Compassion, Kindness and Love.
You will be richly rewarded. We are ALL One!
This photo was taken from a documentary film called, "The Last Pig."
THE LAST PIG is a feature length documentary that follows the remarkable story of Bob Comis, a humane pig farmer and his journey beyond the slaughterhouse.
"Then God said, 'I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.'" Genesis 1:29
© carol saunders 2018
It is the season of Advent, a time of soul preparation. The term Advent is derived from the Latin word adventus, which means "coming." At Christmas we celebrate the coming of a new life who brought a higher vibration of Light and Love into the world. The world was changed forever, but that was just the beginning. The baby whose birth we honor at Christmas grew up to proclaim for us: “You are the Light of the world.” And he went on to tell us not to put our light under a basket, but like a city on a hill, we are to shine our light brightly so that others may see the Good that we do.
Each year at this time, Christian faiths light candles representing Hope, Peace, Love and Joy. But they are just flickering candles if we are not doing anything to bring Hope, Peace, Love and Joy to the world.
As we look at the current state of our world – particularly as we bear witness to the egregious suffering inflicted upon our animal brothers and sisters by our human brothers and sisters - we know that there is still so much darkness desperately seeking Light. It seems almost hopeless until we remember that we are that Light. When we demonstrate Kindness and Respect toward ALL beings, choosing Compassion over killing, our Light shines brightly, high on a hilltop.
A new world and a new awareness is coming. We are creating it by our vision and compassionate action. We are creating it through our purposeful commitment to awaken the world to a more loving way of being that includes everyone. We are creating it by being an example of non-violent living in the world. Our numbers are growing. Our message is growing. Consciousness is shifting. The slumbering giant of normalized animal exploitation is beginning to wake up.
Together we are actively bringing Hope, Peace, Love and Joy not just to humans, and not just to animals. But to ALL beings.
As we walk mindfully this holiday season, I offer this Advent prayer to lift up our vision for a new, kinder world:
HOPE: Our Hope is for ALL of humanity to awaken to the Truth of their Spirit, which is authentic Kindness and Compassion, and see each other and animals as sentient individuals deserving of moral consideration. Our Hope is for ALL beings to be free; free from harm; free from oppression, experimentation, exploitation, mutilation and all other forms of violence; free to move and express themselves naturally and authentically; free to live full lives.
We know that Spirit is active and alive now, awakening Hope for a new world within all beings.
Hope by Iskander 1989
PEACE: We pray that ALL humans find inner Peace, and make peaceful, non-violent choices, aligned with the Truth of their Spirit, and in Divine partnership with all Creation. We hold the intention for ALL humans to experience healing through forgiveness of self and others, so that they may fully know the blessings of Peace and create a peaceful world that cares for ALL.
We know that the Peace of Spirit is active and alive within us now. May ALL beings be free from harm and truly have Peace.
LOVE: We pray that ALL humans awaken to the power of Love within them, that they learn to love themselves fully, and generously extend that Love to ALL beings. We hold the intention for ALL humans to awaken and dissolve the veil of separation, so that they may fully know the bliss of Universal Love and Oneness.
We know that the Love of Spirit is active and alive within us now. May all beings know the warm Presence of Divine Love within, and feel Kindness, Compassion, Respect and Devotion from others.
JOY: We pray that ALL humans be activated by inner Joy and moved to live in delight, deep cheerfulness and gladness of heart, so that they are free of self-restriction, withholding and domination of others. We hold the intention that our animal brothers and sisters teach humanity the art of contentment and play, which they so naturally exude when free.
We know that the Joy of Spirit is active and alive within us now. May all beings know the Divine wellspring that dwells within, and be free to express themselves fully as Joy.
Joined together, we are the Light, co-creating by our thoughts, words and actions, a world of Hope, Peace, Love and Joy for ALL beings. We are grateful in advance for its manifestation.
Have Faith! A new Light has come into the world. A new world is coming!
We are making it so.
His Peaceable Kingdom by Nancy Conent
“Those of us who have the light should display the light and offer it so that the world will not sink into total darkness.” Thich Nhat Hanh
© carol saunders 2017
During a recent board meeting of the spiritual center I lead, we were discussing having a potluck luncheon after a special event. There was concern that it might be difficult to get community buy in if I wanted it to be vegan. I understood that and responded by assuring everyone that I did not have a vegan agenda. As soon as those words left my mouth, I started reflecting on them. Was I telling the truth?
Yes, I was being true. I don’t have a vegan agenda. People may think I do, but my agenda goes way beyond that. Mine is an agenda of Oneness, Peace, Kindness, Universal Love, and their sister, Nonviolence. That’s the world I want to live in. That’s the world I am co-creating.
It’s also true that I am unapologetically vegan. Being vegan is an expression of Oneness, Peace, Kindness and Universal Love. It is a key part of my spiritual path – the path to becoming an authentic, integrated human who lives in alignment with her beliefs and values. It is a huge step toward compassionate and nonviolent living.
As a minister, there are many times when I want to shout out to my spiritual community (in the same way that Unity co-founder Charles Fillmore unabashedly did), “This is the way to live!” But I refrain, because I know most of them are so attached to their culturally inherited lifestyles that they are simply not yet able to hear. Instead I look for openings within people – especially those who say or think they want Peace and Love. When I see an opening, I say what I can to shine light on some of the ways they may be living contrary to their stated desires. These ways show up in many forms – how they project their shadows onto others, how they live in blame, resentment, worry or unforgiveness, how they hold onto shame, are self-critical or gossip about others. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but people get it. To have Peace and Love, we must be Peace and Love. We are all doing this important spiritual work.
But misalignment also shows up in other daily habits, like what we actually eat and wear, which largely come from taking the lives of animals. Light needs to shine there too.
Almost everyone is blind to this. As a species, we’ve lived with using and abusing animals for so long it is nearly invisible to us. We prefer it that way, because if we don’t see or think about it, we avoid facing our own contributions to violence. Even the most highly conscious peace lovers and social justice warriors have a hard time seeing this. But it is in plain sight when we do the difficult work to look.
Animals are sentient. They experience fear, suffering, anxiety, joy and empathy.
In today’s world, everything about meat eating is contrary to all that we spiritual journeyers value and hold dear. Everything. Yes, we may lovingly gather with family and loved ones around a traditional meal (which has meat at its center). We may be grateful for the food and thankful that it brings us together and nourishes our bodies. We may even say grace to express our appreciation. All this looks like Peace, Kindness and Love…what could be contrary about it?
What makes it contrary is the fact that there is a victim of violence on our table, a someone we choose to not see. In this case, our culture has taught us that the someone is a something. We may call it roast, pork, chicken fingers, or hamburger, but in reality, it is the body torn from a being who had her own value, feelings and social structure, and she desperately wanted to live. While alive she was also likely confined, mutilated, abused, and raped (what else do you call repeated forced ejaculation of males and insemination of females?). Nothing about her own innate nature was respected or allowed. Even if she was in the 1% who are not subjected to horrific factory farm conditions, she undoubtedly experienced suffering, fear and anxiety as she was killed in the slaughterhouse. No one is calm in a death line. And if that isn’t enough, she faced her slaughter while she was still a child or adolescent at best.
Broiler chickens are slaughtered at the rate of nearly 300 per second in the USA when they are just 47 days old. They would naturally live 10-15 years.
Pigs used for pork or bacon are slaughtered at the age of 4 months to a year.
They would naturally live 15-20 years.
Turkeys have been bred to be so large they can no longer mate naturally. 100% of turkeys are inseminated, as are 85% of pigs and 75% of dairy cows.
We have so many food choices today that are healthy, readily accessible and do not cause this suffering. We could choose these.
The hard truth is, we choose meat (killing) simply because we want to. We aren't hunting for basic subsistence like our ancestors did. We aren't living in balance with nature like native peoples did. We don't need meat for our health. It is a habit and a pleasure. And our pleasure matters more to us than their lives.
Think about this. Whenever and wherever it happens to people, we condemn oppression, exploitation and killing, unless it’s in self-defense. People who kill because they want to are called terrorists, murderers or psychopaths. Are we that different from them?
There’s an important human element too. The widespread use of antibiotics in farmed animals creates antibiotic resistant bacteria in our bodies. This poses a significant risk to our health. Low income communities situated near large scale farms are devastated by massive feces and urine pollution. These people are unable to go outside their own homes because of the stench, and they suffer from chronic health problems, not to mention severe property devaluation. The slaughterhouse worker and his/her family suffer from the psychological impact of constant killing, incurring four times the national average of violent arrest, with significantly higher rates of alcoholism, domestic abuse, child abuse and suicide. That just names a few of the impacts that meat consumption has on our fellow humans. There are many more. If we used our land to feed people instead of animals we would have enough food to feed the whole world. We are not taking care of ourselves, our non-human animal friends or our human brothers and sisters.
Feces and urine waste from hog farms in North Carolina
To create the world we desire and to have the inner freedom that comes from walking our talk, we must look at the ways we are out of alignment, and then change. That’s the spiritual path.
Yes, I have an agenda. My agenda is Peace, Kindness and Universal Love. In light of that, I do my best to live in line with those values. I consciously choose to not exploit any sentient being. And hopefully I inspire others to do the same. Because knowing that I am causing the least harm possible in the world is an utterly fabulous way to live.
As for our potluck, I will bring some delightful plant-based food. Even though most people will think it is just my thing, I will know that it is spiritual action - an expression of all that we value and hold dear. Peace. Kindness. Love. And I trust that the light of Peace, Kindness and Love will land in someone’s heart and stir them to awaken. It always does.
© carol saunders 2017
“I believe that you have a right to your beliefs and choices regarding your dietary decisions. Likewise, I have the same right, along with others who choose to include meat in their diet.” (actual comment on a published article)
For those of us who give voice to the plight of animals used for food, this is a very familiar response. We hear it all the time. Awakening people to animal exploitation and violence often triggers within them a respectful reply that what they eat is a personal choice.
At first glance, this appears rational. Freedom is one of our most sacred gifts. I want to be free to make my own choices and to plot the course of my own life. I don’t want others to interfere with my life and tell me what I can and cannot do. I want to be the captain of my own ship.
But is this really a personal choice?
To test your mind a little bit, how do you feel about these statements?
Slave owner: “I believe you have a right to your beliefs and choices regarding business practices. Likewise, I have the same right, along with others who choose to use slaves in their business.”
Rapist: “I believe you have a right to your choices regarding your sexual practices. Likewise, I have the same right along with others who choose to rape women as their sexual practice.”
Terrorist: “I believe you have a right to your choices regarding how and where you drive your car. Likewise, I have the same right to choose to drive my car into a crowd of people.”
These statements hold no ethical merit among normal people in a civilized society. In fact, they are ludicrous because they mask the fact that there is a victim – someone who physically suffers at the hands of a perpetrator. In a civilized society, this deep innate desire for freedom can only be exercised in a moral sense if our choices don’t impair the freedom of another. You can’t ethically mask torturing people as some kind of right you have to choose how you conduct business. Nor can you ethically mask rape or killing as some kind of personal right or choice. We simply are not free to make any choice we want when it involves the life of someone else. When it hurts another, it is no longer just personal.
No one would condone torturing, raping and killing as personal choices in the above scenarios. But we do we condone torturing, raping and killing animals (all of which are standard practices used to turn animal bodies into ‘meat’) as acceptable personal dietary choices. Why is that?
The question becomes even more absurd because we know that an abundance of healthy, less harmful and less violent food options are readily available to us. And we know that the era of needing animal skins and flesh for our survival has long passed.
It comes down to this:
We don’t consider animals to be worthy of our consideration.
What have animals done to deserve virtually no legal or moral consideration? Absolutely nothing. They are innocent.
Animals have been declared sentient in 2500 scientific studies, which means they have the capacity to feel, perceive, and have personal experiences. Like us, they suffer and have complex emotional lives that include happiness, sadness, care and empathy. Like us, they have families and fight for their lives when facing death.
We know all this! Yet we still think they are merely things for us to use for our own desires. We have placed them outside our circle of ‘us.’ They are a ‘them.’
A frightened cow gets a last glimpse of the outside world before entering the slaughterhouse.
Photo credit Hannah Elizabeth, Sympathy at Slaughter
Throughout history, there have been many ‘thems’ considered unworthy of consideration and cast outside the circle of ‘us.’ Among them are poor people, diseased people, women, children, indigenous peoples and slaves. These groups were all relegated to ‘them’ status and any actions against ‘them’ were considered morally acceptable.
Thank God human consciousness is capable of evolving and we have the power to change our minds and habits. And thank God we have continually been hard at work erasing these ridiculous arbitrary boundaries over the past few centuries.
It is now time to consider the existence of another age-old arbitrary boundary – the one between humans and animals. Eating meat is not merely a personal dietary choice because it involves the life of someone else.
Our humanity calls us higher. The animals deserve our consideration now. Let there be Peace on earth and let it begin with me. We are ALL One.
"Kindness and compassion towards all living things is the mark of a civilized society." Cesar Chavez
© carol saunders 2017
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
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.
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