Pointing Fingers

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The climate change debate continues to frustrate me in ways I can’t even explain properly. As more and more people come to accept the fact that global warming is happening and is also manmade, now the issue of what can we do about it has finally emerged. Obviously, in my opinion, there is truly nothing we can do at this point to undo the irrevocable damage we have already caused which will continue to collapse larger and larger ecosystems until human life can no longer be sustained on this earth. It’s disheartening to see that most of the world still seems to think everything will work out somehow in our favor.

Despite knowing we are already doomed, it is really irritating to me to watch the rest of the world wasting the short time we have left pointing fingers at one another. The social justice warriors online are trying to place all of the blame on corporations like the oil and gas industries. At the same time, those corporations are trying to pin the responsibility on the individual consumer. Meanwhile, perhaps the biggest contributor to climate change (the meat and dairy industries) continue on as the leading cause of deforestation, desertification, species extinction, habitat destruction, greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution, etc.

I find this frustrating because it’s so stupid. Two things can be true at once. Yes, the gas and oil industries are part of the problem, undoubtedly. However, these industries would not continue if we were not supporting them with our money. It’s a little easier to play the victim when only considering oil and gas companies. How can any one person practically boycott an industry so essential to our every day lives and survival? The most I can do is not work for them or vote for politicians that prop them up. However, I am not rich enough to buy an electric car or install solar panels on my house. I have to continue putting gas in my car to get to work. Plastic (which is made using oil) seems nearly impossible to cut out of my life completely. Most of the things we use everyday are made at least partially of plastic.

Until we implement plans to divest from fossil fuels as a nation, as well as globally, there isn’t much point in blaming the consumer or the corporation. We are mutually benefiting from one another at the Earth’s expense. Yes, these industries may have lobbyists that are making it harder for our representatives to remain unbiased, but that is a failure of government, not these industries. Capitalism has taught us to make money at any cost, and that is what they are doing. For the most part, they aren’t breaking any of our societal rules. Our government has written corruption into law.

On the other hand, no one wants to mention the meat and dairy industries’ role in climate change. Why not? Well, I think, among many other reasons, it’s because then we, the consumers, are very obviously largely responsible. While it may be unrealistic to give up oil and plastics, giving up meat and dairy is something that we are all capable of as individuals. In a single day, the world’s population could topple these unnecessary and heinous industries.

Arguments that the individual can’t influence the market have already been proven false. Just in the decade that I’ve been vegan, I’ve seen changes with my own eyes. When once there was only one, disgustingly awful veggie burger in my local grocery store, there are now too many options to name. I have multiple options at non-vegan restaurants. Hell, even Burger King has the Impossible Whopper! The largest names in the animal agriculture industry such as Tyson Foods and United Dairy are already beginning to invest in meat and dairy replacements due to the impact vegans and vegetarians have made. Imagine if we were able to get the government to stop subsidizing them. They would go under within a year.

Because of all of this and more, I am so sick and tired of hearing everyone try to shift the blame onto someone else so that they don’t have to make any changes in their personal lives. This is no time for the blame game. At the end of the day, we can only change our own behavior. The only question we need to be asking ourselves right now is: What can I do to make the biggest impact? Even if corporations were primarily to blame, we cannot wait around, bitching and moaning. We can’t expect a capitalist, corporate entity to make moral decisions.

Few things irritate me more than when people refuse to acknowledge their role in an issue. Why is it so difficult for people to admit that they messed up? I will be the first to admit that I could be doing more to make a difference. As I believe it’s already too late, I’m honestly not even expecting anyone to change. It just feels like the very least we could do is own up to our mistakes as individuals and as a species. But by all means, lets just continue to argue while the Earth burns to ashes all around us.

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Vegans & Parties

This weekend I went to two different summer parties with the people I work with. One was with my coworkers from the Child Advocacy Center and one was with my yoga studio friends. It used to be a bigger deal to go out to restaurants and parties and other social events when I was first finding me vegan footing. Now I don’t really give it a second thought. I’m used to either ordering a garden salad or bringing my own party favors when I go out. What I did find interesting was the distinctly different experiences I had at these two parties this weekend.

Since I began working at my new job, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how accepting and considerate of my veganism my coworkers have been. Despite the popular trope that vegans “love to tell you they’re vegan” I actually usually keep it hidden from new people I meet for as long as I can. It’s not that I’m ashamed of it or anything. Talking about it just usually ends up turning into an invitation for all the age old vegan questions. “Where do you get your protein? What do you eat? Can you eat eggs? Do you eat fish?” Etc. etc. It’s quite exhausting. I quickly got tired of dispelling common myths and teaching everyone I met about my diet. But when my friends at work found out, they didn’t seem shocked and horrified like most people. They were great. They were respectful and a lot of them even told me how great it was that I was vegan.

At my work party, I came with a bag of food to eat and share, assuming I wouldn’t have much available there. It was a fondue party after all. However, I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived. There were two giants vegan dishes (pasta salad & a quinoa dish) as well as hummus. All were labeled very clearly too! It honestly nearly brought tears to my eyes. I had never felt so respected and well taken care of at a party before. (Plus I made chocolate chip cookies that everyone ate up immediately, not even noticing they were vegan.)

Now I must have gotten a little cocky after that party on Saturday. I didn’t really expect my veganism to even come up at the annual studio picnic I went to yesterday. I’ve known these people for years now and I thought we’d gotten past the question and answer stage. Unfortunately it was immediately brought up when I offered tabouli to everyone. To be fair I guess that’s not an ideal dish to offer since not many people even know what it is. I only know because I’m Greek and my grandmother used to make it, not because I’m vegan. Anyway, I digress, it seemed like quite a bit of my time there was just spend explaining veganism and nutrition to everyone. I got all the classics. “Where do you get your protein?” That one always kills me. I also had people acting upset that the impossible burger wasn’t “healthy.” Well yea, neither is a regular burger. It’s a junk food replacement, not a health food. Someone even told me, “It’s great being vegan works for your body. I don’t think it would work for my body.” What the hell does that even mean? Haven’t heard that excuse before.

I was so disappointed that my fellow yogis were the ones that made me spend my time at this party lecturing and justifying my lifestyle. They all seemed to be much more defensive than my work friends. It’s interesting to observe the way different people react to my veganism. It says a lot about a person. What I’ve seemed to notice is that the more in line with vegan principles someone already is, the more threatened they seem to be by me. Not always, but a lot. Ahimsa or non-harming is one of the main principles of a yogic lifestyle. Of course that can be interpreted different ways by different people, but obviously veganism is the way I interpret it. I think veganism is quite threatening to some people. They hear you saying you’re better than them even when you’re not. They feel attacked and become hostile towards you. It’s a visceral reaction brought on by the cognitive dissonance within their own minds. They see the value in veganism and know that it aligns with their beliefs, yet they aren’t ready to give up their current habits. The discomfort that creates is then a problem that the vegan catalyst is blamed for subconsciously.

Whatever you opinions of veganism are, I just want to point out that it’s not polite to put a vegan on the spot with endless questions, especially at a party. I went there to have fun, not to answer questions that are quite frankly boring and irritating to me at this point. I used to think that it was a great opportunity to educate people and even though I didn’t really enjoy doing so, I tried my best to answer everything adequately. After being vegan for nearly a decade now and hearing the same questions from the same people again and again, I see it a bit differently. I don’t think most people really care what your answers are. They are just asking questions to make conversation. If they truly had any interest in the answers to those questions, they could have just googled it and gotten a much more comprehensive and helpful explanation.

One of the questions I always get is: “what do you miss most?” They are expecting it to be a “food.” But honestly I miss fitting in better, being able to blend into the crowd. The social ostracizing it the hardest part. It’s practically the only difficulty that still has stayed with me after all these years as a vegan.

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Altruism

For the majority of my life, I’ve considered myself a pretty selfish person. It’s not something I’m proud of or anything, just something I’ve recognized about myself. As I get older, I identify with that label less and less. I am still definitely more selfish and self-obsessed than a lot of the people I know, but not nearly as much as my past self. I think selfishness is something we all grow out of to some extent as we grow older. Although I’m not really sure why that is.

As far as my own personality goes, I think I’ve changed because the more I’ve experienced in life, the more I’ve learned that it feels good to be “selfless.” I say that almost ironically, because I’m not really sure if there truly are selfless acts in this world. Regardless of what our reasoning might be, we all have our own motives for doing everything that we do. In the end I truly believe that we are all connected anyway. We are all one. So by helping others, we are also helping ourselves. Even if in the moment it looks as though we’ve put ourselves at risk or denied ourselves something for the sake of another, all that truly means is that we value the way it feels to help more than whatever it is we may lose in the process. I just think some people are a little bit more honest and in tune with their intentions than others.

I don’t want this to sound cynical. I’m not trying to argue that no one is motivated by anything other than self interest. There is nothing wrong with feeling good about helping someone else. I think it’s quite beautiful even. It’s just one of the many ways this world provides us with a perfectly symbiotic relationship with all other life. It’s so bizarre to think that what was once a playground taunt “what goes around comes around” has actually been a profound truth all along. I’m not sure how I feel about karma because it is more focused on past lives. However, I do believe that we can feel the direct impacts of our own actions coming back to us in this life.

The real reason I wanted to talk about this idea today is because of the impact it can have on our mental health. It seems like despite the sunny warm weather returning, my mental health hasn’t improved like it usually does around this time of year. I’m not sure whether it’s because of this ongoing pandemic or what I’ve learned about our oceans recently, but something has been weighing on me quite heavily this past year. Yesterday, my best friend since third grade messaged me and expressed that she has been feeling the exact same ways that I have. Her anxiety has been worse than ever, she’s having panic attacks, depressive episodes, fits of rage, etc. While it truly broke my heart to hear how much she’s been struggling, comforting her did help me remember something very important that I’d nearly forgotten.

Sometimes when we are drowning in mental illness and focusing on all of our problems, it becomes hard to think about anything or anyone else. We get sucked into this painful, self-defeating vortex. Although it may seem impossible in these moments, one of the best ways to pull ourselves out is to try to focus on others for awhile. Even though it feels like you have nothing left to give, give anyway. One of my favorite quotes is, “the heart that gives, gathers.” A simple, yet powerful truth. There is nothing more uplifting or fulfilling than being of service to others, especially those you love. It’s nice to feel needed, to feel that you are a valuable part of someone else’s life, to see that you are capable of contributing to the lives of your friends, your family, your community.

When you fixate on something, it often grows and becomes larger and larger the longer you do. The same goes for your problems. A day spent focusing solely on my anxiety level is guaranteed to be a difficult day. As I spent hours on the phone with my friend last night, my own anxiety couldn’t have been further from my mind. I was even grateful for my own experiences with mental illness as it allowed me to better understand my friend’s suffering. I was so happy to be able to be there for her.

We briefly discussed the idea of “burdening” others with your distress or personal issues. Both of us have a tendency to be hesitant to speak up about our problems to those we love. It seems cruel to make them share our pain, even if it would lighten the load for us and provide much needed comfort. Even though I often feel this way, I do believe there is also another way to look at it. Perhaps it is a gift to share our troubles with our loved ones. After all, I didn’t feel burdened by talking to my friend about her struggles yesterday. I felt honored and thankful that she would come to me for help. It made me feel better to help her feel better. It is a beautiful experience of bonding and trust to be vulnerable with someone else.

The next time I am starting to feel overwhelmed by my own inner world, I want to remember what my friend reminded me yesterday by coming to me with her despair. I don’t need to be afraid to also share my difficulties. And even more importantly than that, sometimes the best remedy for those difficulties is shifting my focus to helping someone else instead. To remind myself that there is so much more in this world than my own suffering, that I am capable of more than suffering. I am even capable of easing the suffering of others, and that is something I am truly grateful for.





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The Monotony of Life

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Some days I start to feel really overwhelmed by the way it seems like I am living nearly the same day over and over again. I wake up, I let my dog out, I feed my cat, I make coffee, I pick up clumps of white cat fur from every room, I collect up several lady bugs from the windowsills, etc. I start to feel weighed down by these mundane maintenance activities. The idea of doing something you’ll just have to do again tomorrow or at the end of the day or even an hour from now has always frustrated me.

Maybe it’s just that same idea of feeling forced to do something over and over that I don’t want to do. It’s hard to accept in the moment, but in reality I do want to do those things. Maybe not directly, but I want the results. I want my pets to be comfortable and happy. I want my house to look clean and orderly. I definitely want to drink that morning coffee. Focusing on the giving myself the result rather than being burdened by the process might be helpful. Instead of thinking: Ugh, here I am filling this dog bowl for the hundredth time, I can think about the love I have for my sweet dog daughter and how grateful I am to have her in my life to care for. But even that takes mindful awareness and lots of practice.

I’ve been experiencing mild physical pain the last few days. Although it’s quite aggravating, it has also been helping me understand something bigger. I’m very fortunate in the sense that I don’t experience pain or illness very frequently. However, in the times I do, especially thinking back to being sick more often as a child, it almost feels like my whole body is in a panicked revolt against the area that is experiencing distress. I so desperately want to isolate and separate from that area of my body, to numb it, to detach it. I’ve even heard other people express this idea by wishing they could just remove their head when they have a migraine or head cold. It seems counterintuitive to actually embrace that troubled part of our bodies instead. Yet that is exactly what we need to do.

It only increases our suffering to try to avoid pain, physical or otherwise. Last night as I was trying to fall asleep, I remembered this tidbit of yogic wisdom. I allowed my awareness to caress that painful place. I sent my breath there. I sent loving kindness there. It must have worked well because the next thing I knew I was waking up to a bright new morning. I think this principle can also work in the other difficult parts of life.

Instead of resisting my monotonous morning routine, I’ll practice embracing it. Sure, maybe I’ve done these things a million times before and will probably do them another million in the future, but what does it feel like to do them today? And I don’t have to lie to myself and pretend it’s fun. Maybe it does feel frustrating. What does frustration feel like? Can I allow myself to experience that?What does my body feel like? Can I move mindfully? Can I find something new even in these repetitive tasks, just like I do in my yoga practice? Does my body feel stiff and achy from hours of sleep? Am I feeling sleepy or awake? What does it feel like to be experiencing these things? Can I practice gratitude and mindfulness even in the dullest moments? Can I remember to breathe deeply in discomfort? Can I experiment and find new ways to be kind to myself with my thoughts and movements?

All of these things are obviously easier said than done. Usually when we are feeling tired and irritated, the last thing we want to do is pause and be mindful or grateful. But I think just taking a few moments now and then to set these intentions for my everyday life helps me to remember to at least try. Even though I may not “succeed” I’ll know that today I can at least give myself some credit for trying. And those small moments of practice add up.

Testing My Compassion

I’ve written about my trouble with moths in my house on here before. Thankfully, I was able to pretty successfully get rid of them by placing lavender scented cotton balls throughout my cabinets, closets, and drawers. But now there is another plague upon my house: ladybugs.

My grandmother would often complain about ladybugs being in her house. I can remember seeing a few on a windowsill when I was a kid. I’ve also had a little trouble with them myself since I’ve lived here, but nothing too terrible. I’m not sure what has changed this year. Maybe it’s the weather or perhaps catching and releasing a jar full of stinkbugs from my room made more space for them, but they have absolutely taken over my home. I can’t walk through a room without seeing at least one. I brush four or five off of my kitchen counter and put them outside every time I try to cook. They crawl all over the windows. Dead ladybug bodies are scattered around the floor again a day after I’ve vacuumed.

I am really at a loss about what to do. And it isn’t just an annoyance. For me, it’s also a moral dilemma. At first, like the stinkbugs, I just found them silly, a mild inconvenience. But it’s really been out of control this year. I’ve started to look at them with anger and disgust. I feel hatred towards them. I have started to lose sight of the fact that they are living things. And I’m so ashamed of that.

I don’t want to feel this hatred. They don’t deserve my fury. They are just small beings doing their best to survive in this bizarre world. Just like I am. This has really been a trial of compassion. A test to see if I can maintain my connection with my heart as I move through my own home that’s been invaded. A test to see if I can show compassion to the very beings that have invaded it.

I have not intentionally squashed any of them and I don’t even plan on it. I simply couldn’t. Even if they do make me angry. I still feel guilty collecting them up to put them outside. They will most likely not be able to survive in the snow. But what am I to do? I know that in time, just like in the years before, they will dwindle and disappear again. I just need to be patient and cultivate my compassion until then.

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Anxiety is Bizarre

It seems as I get older, my anxiety only becomes more intense. Perhaps I am just noticing it more than I did as a child, because back then I didn’t really have a name for it. Either way I am concerned. If it were only to stay at this level, I could probably handle it. But I fear it will continue to escalate.

I am constantly getting frustrated with myself. I want my life to change. I genuinely think I know what to do in order to be as happy as possible. Yet even the thought of waking up tomorrow and making any of those changes is absolutely petrifying. I am too afraid of losing control if I change my routine. It’s just absurd though because I don’t like the way things are going. I’m clearly already not in control. I know I could make my life better, yet I’m afraid to.

I wonder if this is something that everyone struggles with. Is it really all my anxiety that is holding me back? Maybe I am just using it as a convenient excuse. Telling myself I am unable because of mental illness, that if only I were normal I could have the life I dream of. I know I desperately need to start therapy, but I’m too afraid to do that too!

The Frustration of Veganism

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You often hear people discuss the “challenges” of becoming vegan such as limiting yourself, constantly having to read ingredients, not being able to eat at certain restaurants, expenses, etc. However, no one ever mentioned to me the most difficult part of veganism: other people. The constant battle that you face everyday is having to justify yourself to ignorant, inconsiderate, and often down-right rude people.

Before becoming vegan, I was, of course, exposed to the classic holier-than-thou vegan stereotype. I never thought much of it, but after becoming vegan myself, it is infuriating. As a vegan, you are questioned and criticized at every turn (at least if you are from an area like I am.) But if you even attempt to defend yourself, then you are just some “crazy” tree-hugger that thinks you are better than everyone else.

You are expected to have endless references from which you acquired your knowledge, yet no one else seems to need any kind of justification for their false statements about meat and dairy and protein and whatnot. I would have hoped that by this point in history that people would know that just because something is widely believed, does not make it true. I just cannot for the life of me understand what these vegan critics want from us.

Vegans are the victims of endless jokes and ribbing that we are supposed to just brush off. Well, I am fed up with it. This is not just some silly game to make ourselves feel important. Why would so many people make such a drastic change from the ordinary just to feel superior? We are clearly standing up for the things we believe. I am sorry that that seems to threaten so many people out there. If you don’t want to lend a hand in saving our environment, your own body, and millions of innocent lives, then that is your problem, but don’t you dare try to make me feel silly for doing so. Even if the world is too far gone to save, I will not be a part of its destruction and it sickens me that so many people would rather do that than open their minds to a new way of living and admit that we as a species have been selfish and careless.

Time to stand up for our Mother Earth, my loves. ❤