Seeking Redemption

Last night I dreamt about possibly the biggest mistake I ever made in my past. I woke up feeling weighed down by all those heavy memories. All morning I have been feeling ashamed and unworthy of redemption. When I think about terrible, selfish things I’ve done there are at least a handful of things that readily come to mind. Yet when I try to think of caring, kind, selfless acts, my mind goes blank. Am I really this awful person that I perceive myself to be? Or is my perception skewed?

I think most people make justifications and excuses for the wrong they’ve done. They allow these rationalizations to comfort their conscience. My mind tries to tell me that everyone makes mistakes, that I was young and naïve, that I would never want to hurt anyone. But I refuse these ideas outright. I feel at my core that I deserve condemnation for my actions, that if anyone knew me like I know myself, they would cast me out, and rightfully so.

Some people argue that altruism doesn’t really exist. Even kind acts are beneficial to the bearer. Yet most people, I imagine, still feel confident in their goodness after performing a good dead. I on the other hand, view the kind things I’ve done as others view their misdeeds. I minimize them. I explain them away. I tell myself that I’ve done these things out of my own self-interest. I deny any altruistic intentions.

What I’m left with is the guilt and blame of all the wrong I’ve done and none of the credit for anything decent in my past. Most people are shocked when they discover that I think so little of myself. “You are a good person,” they tell me, “You are so kind and compassionate!” But I shrink away from these reassurances. They don’t really know me, I tell myself. Then I feel even more guilty for deceiving them. It is a very lonely life, feeling unknown and unknowable.

I suppose there is really no way for me to truly know if the image I hold of myself is accurate. It might all come back to the grey areas I struggle so much with. Perhaps I am a bad, selfish person, but also a caring, loving one. Even so, I desperately want to atone for all the wrong that I have done, even though I am the only one who knows about a lot of it. I want to live a life that I can be proud of. I don’t want to keep lamenting these mistakes. I want to be freed from the sins of my past. I want redemption for myself, from myself.

I am grateful that I have the principles of yoga to guide me. Even though I feel a lot of the Yamas and Niyamas are out of my reach, beyond my capabilities, I still want to try to embody them. I want to become honest and upright, truthful and generous, thoughtful and helpful. I know that happiness lies within these virtues. I must believe that, regardless of my past failings, I am strong enough, I am intelligent enough, to change.

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The Duality of Self

Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself. (I am large. I contain multitudes.)

Walt Whitman

I am a yoga teacher, a devoted student as well. I am an ancient, quiet, thoughtful, loving soul. I am full of fire and passion and purpose. I am compassionate. I am capable. I am powerful. I am brilliant. This is me at my best. This is me embracing my full potential. My soul, untarnished and gleaming out from within. This is me present and pulsating with the joy of existence. However…

There is another side of me. A self steeped in shame and secrecy. The parts of me that are fearful, hateful, apathetic, envious, greedy, grotesque. This self-hating side of me that holds me prisoner. That ties up my spirit in doubt, in bitterness, in hopelessness. That whispers hateful ideas directly into my head. The part of me that says: This is the real you. The rest is just pathetic pretending. And I believe it.

This is a war wagged within me each and every day. As I lie down on my mat to meditate, I am boundless. I am free. I am happy. But when I stand up that feeling falls away. I leave that version of myself on the mat. I can never take it with me fully. As I go about my self-destructive, mindless daily rituals, it is painful to even remember that other part of myself. It feels like a dream. Or a fanciful character I sometimes play. I feel like an imposter, a fraud. I feel ashamed.

I don’t know why I identify so much more with the negative side of myself. Technically both expressions are me. I just don’t feel worthy enough to claim my higher aspects. Yet I desperately want to believe in the truth of those moments. The time I spend on my yoga mat, in the studio teaching every Saturday, that is not an act. The lovely qualities I am capable of are just as much a part of me as the disturbing ones. No one is perfectly splendid or perfectly awful. I should not feel ashamed of my dual nature. It is only natural.

I want to learn to embrace the side of myself that I admire and allow it to bleed out into my life off the mat more and more. Yet learn to accept that the darker aspects of myself will always be a part of me as well. I want to create harmony between the two and love myself for everything that I am, the good and the bad. I am hopeful that in this coming year I can start to find that healthy blend.

Hypocrisy for the Holidays

In memory of the 56 billion each year, 153.4 million each day, 6.4 million each hour, 106,546 each minute.

Carol Adams

When I started this blog, I intended to focus on veganism. I wanted to make a change in the world and help vegans in small areas of the country like me be successful. As you can see from the majority of my posts, I’ve all but abandoned that goal. I quickly grew weary of fighting what seems like a hopeless battle.

Yet I still have a small ember of that fire in my heart. I feel guilty about giving up on the billions of farmed animals that are alive and suffering at this very moment. I know that I should be fighting every day, every moment, with every breath I have. Even if it is hopeless. Even if I burn myself up in the process. Even if I lose my voice from screaming. Because who else will help them? What right do I have to live happily, to turn my head away, when they are still suffering?

When the holidays come around each year it gets more difficult to avoid these painful truths. There is a seemingly never ending stream of curious questions about what I’ll eat for Thanksgiving. Looks of mild disgust when I happily explain how yummy my tofurky always is. Looks of pity when they think about my holidays as a vegan.

I try to be a good example, give a good sales pitch. I try not to get annoyed when I have to answer the same questions for the 9th year in a row. That deep well of rage still simmers in my soul. Bitter outrage at the insanity, the inhumanity of it all. But after all these years a heavy sadness overwhelms that anger. A cold damp rain in my heart, threatening to extinguish that ember. A sadness about the ways things are, my inability to change this fucked up world, about all the lovely, innocent babies crying out somewhere in the dark.

There are very few things that can bring me to tears. Imagining the grand scale, the sheer magnitude of unimaginable suffering the human race inflicts upon these gentle beings is one of them. I spent my meditation today silently weeping for them. Saying I’m sorry, desperately wishing them some sense of peace, an end to their pain.

Maybe if I could shed these tears at the dinner table on December 25th I could finally get through to my family. Maybe I could show them the anguish I feel. The anguish they contribute to, are complacent with. The sickening absurdity of praying for peace on earth before carving up a corpse.

I know even that would not move them though. They would just think that I’m insane. Or trying to get attention. Because that’s how all vegans are seen. We are dramatic, attention seekers. We are arrogant, know-it-alls. We are despised and mocked. No one wants to confront their own hypocrisy, their own atrocities. And I can’t really blame them. It isn’t easy to live with this immense weight. This horrible knowing.

And so I prepare to share my table with death, with violence, with cruelty, with ignorance this holiday season, as I do every year. And I will swallow that pain with my red wine. I will pretend it’s all okay. I will close my heart to the bodies of my brethren laid before me with shame. Because I simply cannot bear to feel what I truly feel. I cannot bear to scream and fight anymore. And I am so ashamed. I am so sorry that I am not strong enough to save them.

Mental Illness & Culpability

Earlier this week, I did something awful at work which I immediately felt sick with regret and remorse over. Despite, by the grace of God, managing to get away with it, I have spent a lot of time thinking it over. I keep asking myself why did I do it?

Part of me says I did it because I am selfish and callous, cruel even. I didn’t want to have to stay late. I didn’t care about anyone but myself in that moment. Not the client that I could have helped, not my friends and coworkers, not the organization that I’ve come to love. It was more important that I got home on time and maintained my meticulous schedule. Me, me, me. I am just an despicable person.

But another part of me challenges that explanation. If I don’t care, why do I feel so wretched about my actions? Do I only feel guilty because I was worried I’d get caught? I didn’t get caught though. And I still feel terribly ashamed. I also know that logically my actions weren’t even in my best interest. While taking a different path may have still caused me anxiety it wouldn’t have been anywhere near the amount I inflicted on myself by making the choices I did.

Part of me wants to say it isn’t my fault. That I am mentally ill. That I am simply unable to control myself sometimes because of this. I have severe anxiety. I have intense OCD behaviors. These things are manifested in poor decisions and inexplicable actions. I am unwell. This feels more true to me than the idea that I’m just a shitty person who doesn’t care about anyone. But is that only because I’d rather it be true?

I want to take responsibility for my actions though. I don’t want to make up excuses for myself. But I also want people to understand why I sometimes behave in these unforgivable ways. I don’t want it to be a justification, but an acknowledgement that I need help. I guess the culpability comes in when you consider that I know I need help, yet I haven’t made an effort to go ask for it.

After all this thinking though, I started to wonder about other people. Are there even any truly bad people? Or are they just displaying symptoms of mental illness like me? It’s impossible to really know what they are experiencing inside themselves. Many may not even understand what they are experiencing. I don’t think there are evil people in the end. Just sick people that need help. Whether they understand that or not.

I hope I can keep this lesson close to my heart. I hope it can help me do better in the future. Help me be more forgiving, more understanding, less angry, not as quick to pass judgement. Likewise I can only hope others will be able to understand and forgive me for my shortcomings, for my mistakes. And ultimately, I hope I will be able to forgive myself too.

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Eat Like You Love Yourself

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My whole life I have struggled with disordered eating. I’ve never been thin enough. My stomach has never been and probably will never be flat, and I know it’s impossible for me to have a “thigh gap” without being dangerously underweight and malnourished. I’m almost ashamed to say it, but despite all of the incredibly important and meaningful reasons to go vegan, I went vegan so I could be skinny. Thanks to the plethora of vegan alternatives and high calorie plant foods that never happened, but I was lucky enough to finally get the message anyway and stay vegan for the animals.

Despite all of my perceived failures, I continue trying to lose weight. It’s hard for me to remember a time in my life when I wasn’t counting calories, restricting, binging, and endlessly associating food with comfort and shame in a viscous cycle. I know many other women suffer with these same issues. The negative self-talk and the constant comparisons can become all-consuming. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

As I have become more involved with practices such as yoga and meditation, I have begun to realize just how cruelly I have been treating myself all of these years. It’s hard to practice self-love when every meal triggers thoughts of “you’re not good enough.” How many precious moments of my life have I wasted full of negativity and self-judgement? I want to be kind to myself. I know that I won’t change years of bad habits overnight, but I think I’ve finally decided to start consciously trying.

For me, the easiest way to do this is to imagine my brain and my body as two separate entities. My brain is me and my body is a sweet, innocent animal that I care for. Just like the pets that I care for each day, I give them the healthiest food and as much as they desire. I want to also do that for myself. That’s why this week I am trying to make myself the healthiest, nutrient packed, whole-food, vegan meals I can. This way I can eat to my heart’s content, while avoiding all guilt. Because I know that I am giving my body so much love and energy.

I’m not going to lie. I still hope to lose a significant amount of weight this upcoming year, but I hope that in this way I will be able to do so with a positive mindset and with self-love. I have been doing well so far and hope to continue eating in this way.

Wish me luck! ♥