Health, Illness, & Impermanence

You see this goblet? For me this glass is already broken. I enjoy it; I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns. If I should tap it, it has a lovely ring to it. But when I put this glass on the shelf and the wind knocks it over or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ When I understand that the glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious.

Achaan Chaa

If you are someone who is healthy and able bodied like me, take a moment to reflect on that fact. Even if you suffer from mental or physical illness or you are differently abled, consider all that you body is able to do for you every day. Most of us live our lives without ever thinking much about our health, until that health is threatened or lost. In the last two years, the Covid-19 Pandemic has brought health, as well as illness, to the forefront of our collective awareness. Now more than ever in my lifetime, I have been faced with the reality of uncertainty and impermanence.

Even now, it’s easy to imagine I will somehow be immune to things like serious illness, accidental bodily harm, aging, or death. Although, logically, I know these things can affect anyone at anytime, I can’t manage to wrap my head around that fact. I have been privileged so far in life. I’ve always had relatively good health. I was born healthy. I’ve never had to be admitted to the hospital. I’ve never even broken a bone! At worst, I’ve suffered strep throat, stomach bugs, and cuts and scrapes. I have all of my senses. I have all of my limbs.

I’ve been isolated and sheltered from the harsh realities of illness. I was too young to comprehend my grandfather dying of heart disease. My grandmother died quickly without much distress or struggle from cancer a few years ago. Other than that and the death of a handful of pets, suffering, sickness, and death haven’t yet touched my life. Because of this, I have been able to live oblivious to these painful experiences for the majority of my life. This has allowed me to disassociate from many of the darker aspects of living. However, I know no one will make it through there entire life unscathed. I think it’s important for me to face what I’ve managed to avoid for so long.

Most of the time, I insulate myself with reassurances such as a healthy lifestyle and “good” genetics. Rarely do I ever acknowledge that those things only get you so far. We feel shocked and unnerved when we hear stories about random accidents causing severe injury or death. We are horrified and fascinated by sudden diseases, infections, or afflictions that seem to have no clear cause or no way to predict. We have immense sympathy, but somehow still think, “Well, that could never happen to me.” Deep down we all know that every day, every moment is a roll of the dice.

I’m not trying to be a downer or a pessimist. I’m not saying that we should always be obsessing over the possibility of misfortune. What I am saying is that we should never lose sight of how impermanent this life is. The quote at the beginning of this post is an excellent way for us to conceptualize this. Imagine that everything you have is “already broken.” Then we will not be as shocked or devastated when it does eventually break. It is also a reminder to treat all of the amazing things in this life, including our incredible bodies, with tenderness and gratitude.

When we hold in our awareness the truth of impermanence, illness, and death, it allows us to more fully appreciate the good fortune we are enjoying right now. Yes, suffering will reach us all in our lives, but today we are alive! What a blessing to wake up and enjoy moving through the world with this strong, healthy, able body. What a precious miracle it is to be free from chronic pain or illness. Thinking of things in this way, realizing that we ourselves are “already broken” makes these moments that would normally be taken for granted, something to be overwhelmingly grateful for. Let’s make a practice of savoring these simple moments so that when the time comes we are able to let go with grace and equanimity.

How Meditation Can Help Manage Illness | Everyday Health

Rest

Introduction to REST APIs — RESTful Web Services - DZone Integration

When was the last time you really allowed yourself to do nothing? Not planning for the day ahead, not going for a walk, not even doing yoga and meditating. Really and truly nothing. I honestly can’t remember the last time I had a day where every second wasn’t accounted for with some form of activity. I used to think that as long as I wasn’t at work, I was resting. Now I realize life isn’t that simple. Even on my days off, I have a rigorous schedule to follow by the minute. I am constantly checking the clock, checking my to-do list. Sometimes my relentless repetition from day to day has the effect of turning even fun, lighthearted activities into chores. Chores I nevertheless continue to perform, forgetting that my original intention was to enjoy myself.

I heard this phenomenon referred to the other day as “internalized capitalism” and I hated it. Is this really why I feel the need to always be productive? I may not be someone who obsesses over their actual job, but I tend to turn my own personal pursuits into a job. I am my own task master. But behind my own neuroticism, is capitalism really running the show? After all, why do I feel the need to be productive all the time? I’ve always thought working only as much as I absolutely have to and saving the rest of the time for myself was a rebellion against capitalist ideals. Now I’m beginning to wonder if that very system managed to seep into my mind somehow anyway. Why am I so afraid to rest? Why does “wasting time” feel so taboo?

Part of the conversation on “internalized capitalism” was really interesting to me. The hosts of the podcast mentioned that perhaps we tie our self worth to our productivity and usefulness to others because at the end of the day, none of us really know why we’re here. I thought that was a fascinating idea. Without inherent direction or purpose, we subconsciously decide that our purpose is production and selfless service. On paper it doesn’t sound like a bad purpose. It’s quite noble to dedicate your life to serving others. The problem only appears when we decide this is the only thing that matters.

The search for meaning is a perplexing one. Why do we humans long for a reason? Do other animals question their purpose? Do plants wonder why they exist? It seems self evident that we would want to find meaning in the chaos that is existence, but what makes us so sure there is a meaning in the first place? Furthermore, why is the idea that our purpose is to simply exist so unsatisfying? What is it inside of us that makes us desire a reason for being alive? Isn’t just being alive enough? Can’t we just be grateful and enjoy it? Then again, perhaps our innate need to understand this mystery implies that there is an explanation out there somewhere. Whether or not we’re meant to find it in this life is another story.

I’ve always liked the idea that we get to choose our own purpose. The meaning of life is for us each to interpret for ourselves. However, why is it so hard to fully commit to our own interpretation? For instance, I would say the purpose I’ve assigned to my life is to love and be loved, to learn, to experience, and to enjoy. When I break down my day to day existence though, does it really reflect that purpose? Not really, but how can that be? I get to choose the purpose, and I get to choose how I live, don’t I? Our actions are so often counterintuitive to our own wishes.

Given that none of us really know why we’re here, why is it so difficult for many of us to simply rest? I think part of me is afraid that if I allow myself to rest, I’ll never find the motivation to get back up again. Objects at rest tend to stay at rest right? Humans aren’t objects though. I shouldn’t fear slowing down every now and then. Objects are moved by external forces, momentum keeps them going, and once they stop, they never know when or if they’ll be propelled into motion again. Living beings are different. My energy, my movement comes from within. It’s important to rest so that I can refill my energy stores. There is an elegant dance at play, an eternal struggle to find balance between these two states.

I want to learn to trust my body, to listen more closely when it whispers what it needs, to stop denying it’s pleas for rest. I’ve been pushing myself for so long now, it seems like my body only ever asks for rest. I’ve tricked myself into believing this is all it has or will ever ask for. That it’s my job to overcome this desire for inertia each and every day. I’ve lost faith in my own resilient spirit. I’ve forgotten that it’s a joy to move, to create, to explore. Allowing myself moments of stillness won’t leave me trapped there. I’m sure that if I were to only give myself time to rest, once I was replenished, I’d be eager to get back to “work.” Maybe intervals of rest would keep me from feeling like my life is work at all.

I may be pleasantly surprised like I was after my stint of working from home. I had thought working from home would be ideal for me. I had always wished for that or even not having to work at all. Yet, after a few months I was actually dying to go back to the office. All that time alone had the opposite effect. I wasn’t happier. I was being consumed by my own self-destructive behaviors. I had worried that it’d be a huge burden to go back eventually, but I was surprised to find myself overjoyed when my time at home finally ended.

Try to give yourself at least a few minutes of true rest today. Sit in the grass and stare at the clouds. Listen to your favorite album start to finish. Have a long bubbly bath. Take a nap without guilt. It’s been so long since I’ve incorporated rest into my life, that I’m honestly struggling to come up with examples. What do you like to do to rest? I would love to hear your ideas. Maybe you’re an introvert and rest looks like spending time alone. Or maybe you’re an extrovert and to replenish yourself you like to spend quality time with loved ones. Whatever it is, you deserve it. Give yourself the gift of rest. Use it as an experiment if you like. How might rest give you the energy you need to more fully enjoy the busy moments?

Invest in rest (and live better. Seriously.)

Sitting with Uncertainty

In the digital age accessing information is faster and easier than ever. No matter what question you may find yourself asking, you’ll likely be able to google it and receive an answer, or at least more information, in a matter of seconds. While this is extremely satisfying and a great benefit to society in many ways, like anything, it also has it’s down side. Uncertainty has always made us comfortable, and for good reason. Uncertainty leaves us vulnerable, to the elements, to predators, etc. Knowing is always safer than not knowing.

Unfortunately, despite all the benefits we receive from technology, it also has created even more discomfort around uncertainty. It has become nearly intolerable, for even a short length of time. We have developed a sense of entitlement to information. It is overwhelmingly frustrating when we can’t find that instant gratification.

My first real encounter with the idea that people hate not knowing was when I became a vegan. Despite the fact that I certainly didn’t know anything about veganism before becoming a vegan and doing hours upon hours of research, random people in my life still liked to assume they knew more about it than me. I began to notice that people get aggressive when you challenge their knowledge on any topic, even one they have little to no interest in. It’s also rare, regardless of what you’re asking, that someone will answer honestly with: I don’t know. We all want to believe we know everything or at least present that all-knowing façade to others.

The recent Covid-19 pandemic has once again highlighted humanity’s fear of uncertainty. Almost as soon as people started discussing the virus, everyone wanted to pretend that they new the latest and most accurate information. You still see thousands of people proclaiming to know more about this new virus than the doctors and scientists that are studying it. You can see the reluctance people have to even acknowledge that experts know more than they do. In addition to that we are constantly asking ourselves and those around us, when will this end? Even though we all know that no one knows the answer to that question.

I’m sure on a smaller scale, you are able to recognize your own discomfort with not knowing in your day to day life. This is one of the reasons why we are so upset when things don’t go as planned. Today in particular I am getting the chance to practice sitting with uncertainty. When I woke up this morning, it was just another day. I was looking forward to having appointments scheduled at work, seeing our new intern, and marking off another day before my boyfriend comes home for the holiday weekend.

As I was leaving, I noticed a group text from my boss, but didn’t think much of it. I assumed it was something I could look at later when I got a chance. When I got to the office, my friend told me that text was telling us our new therapist tested positive for Covid despite being vaccinated, and that now we had to get tested and work from home until further notice. This caused a lot of mixed feelings for me. Part of me was happy. I’ve been hoping I would get to work from home again. However, another part of me was terribly angry.

I knew it was no one’s fault, but I couldn’t help myself from arbitrarily assigning blame, to my coworkers, the government, the school systems, even (and perhaps especially) myself for not being more cautious. Normally I would be elated at the idea of isolating myself for a few weeks, but not this week. Tomorrow I had planned to finally start a podcast with my two best friends. Now that would have to be postponed, unless I am able to somehow get a negative test result by the morning.

To my horror, I also realized that this may completely derail my plans to see my boyfriend. We certainly won’t be able to go out to all the vegan restaurants we had planned to go to. Nor will we be able to go out to the state parks and hike like we had planned. I’m not even sure if I’ll be able to see Nate at all. We are both vaccinated, but if I test positive or can’t get my results in time, will he want to risk seeing me regardless? Should I even let him? I would hate to jeopardize the training he is doing for his job. I have no idea what it would mean for him if he tested positive while staying in a dorm at a college campus. Would he have to resign from the rest of the training?

I woke up this morning feeling confident, collected, certain of what my day would hold. Now that certainty has turned into a churning mental storm of questions and concern. I’m doing my best to stay positive. Life is full of uncertainty and I am lucky that the curve ball thrown at me today wasn’t something worse. I could have had a car accident on my way to the office. Someone I love could have been hurt or killed suddenly. I could have not woken up at all. Instead I was given a gentle, although inconvenient, reminder that things don’t always go as planned.

Rather than slip into irritation and despair, I am going to use this experience to practice patience. I’m going to let it be a reminder of all that I have to be grateful for, of how fortunate I’ve been to not even have to be tested until now, to be privileged enough to have been vaccinated, to live alone so I don’t have to worry about exposing my loved ones, to have an employer that will allow me to work from home, and perhaps most importantly, for this young, healthy, strong body. Today is also a lesson, teaching me that anything can be a blessing if you choose to see it that way.

What You Should Know About COVID-19 | Children's Hospital Los Angeles

Find Neutral First

One of the things that I don’t see addressed enough when people talk about affirmations or positive self-talk is where to start. It always sounds so easy. Just say: I love myself, I am perfect just the way I am, good things are coming my way, etc. But what if you simply can’t make yourself believe those things no matter how many times you repeat the words? Not only will repeating these phrases half-heartedly not help, but it can actually be harmful. If saying “I deserve to be happy” is immediately followed by a flood of negative thoughts, you’re doing more harm than good.

This was something I really struggled with in the beginning of my spiritual journey. I am still working my way up, taking baby steps. Sometimes it feels like the self-help gurus out there don’t really understand or remember what it’s like to be lost and depressed. When you’re starting from so far behind, some of the affirmations people offer can seem laughable. The sad part is, I think most people are on the opposite side of this positivity and self-care movement. Feeling so far away from, and misunderstood by, the people in these better head spaces only serves to discourage those that are struggling the most. It feels like they are in a different world all together.

I used to be one of these people. My sister, whom I love dearly, still is. That’s what has inspired me to write this post and speak out about this troubling disconnect between self-love/self-care advocates and the people that need their help the most. We need to establish a middle ground in between these two extremes of perception in order to bridge the gap. Otherwise, even the people that work up the courage to try to step out of their negative mindsets will find the very practices designed to help, discouraging instead.

I’m here today to help the people like me find a foothold. If you are looking to improve you mental health, your self talk, your self image, or all of the above, it’s okay to start small. I mean, really small. Especially when it comes to affirmations, the important part is finding an affirmation that you can actually believe. Start where you are. Try out a couple different, fairly neutral affirmations at first. So take the example I gave earlier: I deserve to be happy. If that stirs up resistance or negative emotions inside of you, try tweaking it a bit. What about saying: everyone deserves to be happy. Sometimes more general phrases like this are more palatable. As you progress and become more comfortable with that phrase, you might try adding on: therefore, I also deserve happiness, or: so do I. Maybe one day you will feel confident saying: I deserve to be happy, but if not, that’s okay too.

Here are a couple other affirmations for you to try if you’re just beginning an affirmation practice:

  1. It’s okay to feel anxious (depressed, angry, sad, etc.)
  2. Whatever I manage to do today is enough, even if it is just existing.
  3. I know I am doing the best I can even if it may not appear that way to others.
  4. Everyone deserves to be loved.
  5. This feeling will pass. Nothing lasts forever.

Feel free to use these or come up with your own affirmations that feel true to you. The final tip I’ll offer is, do what you can. And let yourself be proud of how ever much that is. Sometimes we get so fixated on how much other people are doing that we don’t feel we have any right to be proud of the “small” things we do. But we all have our own struggles. Regardless of how different or “trivial” our struggles might look compared to someone else’s, we know how hard it is. Let yourself celebrate the small victories. Because those small victories add up. If you want to start yoga or meditation, that doesn’t mean you have to pay for a studio membership, buy a bunch of fancy props, or even dedicate an hour of your day to practicing. I started my yoga journey with just 7 minutes a day. Does even 7 minutes sound overwhelming? No big deal. Try 1 minute, 1 deep mindful breath, or even just 1 pose. This is your journey, your life, and you can take it as slow as you need to.

6,733 Girl Looking Out Window Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images  - iStock

What a Time to Be Alive

Arheološki portal - Medieval torture devices – Part 2

The other day I heard someone make a comment sarcastically thanking their parents for letting them be born in “the worst possible time in human history.” I didn’t challenge this statement, mostly because I couldn’t tell if they were serious or just being overly dramatic or hyperbolic. I certainly hope they don’t genuinely believe that. It really made me stop and contemplate just how lucky I actually am to have been born in this time period.

Most of the time I spend complaining about the ways in which I feel society is broken and as a result destroying the natural world around us. I lament the fact that I won’t get to live a long happy peaceful life like it feels my generation was promised by our parents and teachers. When I was a child, the future seemed like a fantastical sci-fi movie. Who even knows what types of unbelievable technologies we’ll have in a few decades? Will cars fly? Will we be able to teleport? These things seemed like legitimate possibilities at one point.

However, growth of any kind cannot continue indefinitely. Now it seems more like humans are on their way out rather than up. I often find myself worrying about what will happen in the next ten, twenty, thirty years. What will the world even look like? Will I be able to manage? Will I suffer? Will my loved ones suffer? While I still believe these are valid concerns, when I consider them from the wider perspective of all of human history, they seem nearly laughable.

What does it matter if someday things will be hard, if someday I may struggle and suffer? Throughout most of human history we were all struggling and suffering in one way or another for our entire lives. I have already been lucky enough to have enjoyed twenty-seven years of beautiful, easy, happy life. Just a quick google search of the average age people died throughout history shows that I’ve already been extremely fortunate. For the majority of history most people died in their thirties. Why should I feel so “cheated” that I won’t get to be 90? How arrogant. How small minded. I am more than grateful for what I’ve been given. Each morning I wake up is a true miracle, the best gift I could ask for.

In the modern era even the most unfortunate among us have more than our brothers and sisters throughout history had. While our society is still quite far from perfect, it has come so far! I feel ashamed for only focusing on how much farther we have to go while never giving thanks for how far we’ve come. Most of my important opinions and the qualities that make me who I am would have been unheard of, a death sentence even, 50 years ago. I am allowed to be whoever I want to be. I have rights and independence. I am an unmarried, 27 year old woman with no children, my own house, and a full-time job. Simply incredible!

For all the complaining I do about technology and the internet, I am still quite humbled by it. The advancements and inventions that our ancestors have handed down to us are the reason we are here today. They are the reason our species even survived as long as we have. With this laptop, even my phone, I am able to learn about anything I want! I can talk to people across the world, listen to an endless catalog of music, play games, make art. What a simply spectacular world that I get to be a part of!

I suppose for most of my life, I thought acknowledging how fortunate I am and how amazing the world is, would make me complacent towards the suffering and injustices that still exist. It’s certainly still important to work for social change and to make the world an even better place while we’re still here. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be grateful for where we are today. From now on I’m going to try harder to remember that, to fully enjoy and appreciate each moment I am given. What a time to be alive! What a blessing! I am so grateful.

The Brain-Gut Connection

By now, most people know about the gut microbiome. Maybe not the term, but we have a vague understanding of things such as probiotics and antibiotics. It’s very trendy to drink kombucha and eat fermented foods like kimchi in an effort to nurture our gut bacteria. I mentioned in another post how wild it is to find out we are nearly equal parts human tissue cells and germ/bacteria cells. On my way to work this morning as I listened to a podcast episode all about the brain-gut connection, I found out some even more startling and fascinating information.

Every day science is learning more about the helpful bacteria in our digestive systems. It’s quite the complex subject, far more complicated than simply pro and anti biotics. I learned today that there are also things called prebiotics and postbiotics. Prebiotics are the fibrous material that the gut bacteria eats, and postbiotics are the waste materials that the bacteria excrete, which actually ends up being beneficial to our physical as well as our mental health.

I was shocked to discover what a huge role our gut microbiome plays in our mental health. Further research may even uncover that this is the root of all our mental illnesses. Of course, as a vegan, I was intrigued to learn what kind of a difference a plant based diet would have on all of this. I know that farmed animals are routinely given antibiotics to keep them “healthy” even in atrocious conditions. My initial instinct was to feel even more sorry for the animals themselves. Not only are they physically suffering, but god only know what those conditions, PLUS an obliterated gut biome is doing to them mentally. I hadn’t even considered the implications of this on human health. Not only does consuming meat fill us with carcinogens, growth and stress hormones, and cholesterol, it is also destroying our gut biome with the antibiotics absorbed in the flesh of the animals we consume.

Initially, I felt pretty smug about this. Just another reason veganism is the only healthy diet. However, I knew that my mental health, while much improved by a vegan diet, wasn’t completely cured by it. As the podcast continued on, it explained that while meat contains antibiotics, so do the fruit, vegetables, and grains that we eat. Apparently Raid was originally patented as an antibiotic! Raid is also something that, despite all the awful things we know about this poison, is still used on virtually all the crops commercially grown. I suppose organic crops may avoid this, but honestly I don’t know. Call me a skeptic, but I never believe things labeled as “organic” are actually grown organically.

Many of you may take away from this information that we need to balance out our antibiotic ridden diet with lots of healthy probiotics. However, it’s not so simple. Apparently probiotics, though still good for us, are not actually helpful in the ways we intend them to be. Instead, it’s more important for us to focus on consuming foods that are rich in prebiotics. This provides our gut bacteria with the fibers they need to flourish. These foods include things like chicory root, dandelion greens, garlic, onions, and bananas.

Perhaps even more interesting than all of that information is the link between the gut microbiome and hunger/cravings. Hunger seems pretty simple. When our stomachs are empty, this space sends a signal to the brain that we need to eat, right? Wrong. It’s actually the small friends (and foes) in our guts that are giving us these signals. In a study, subjects were told to fast for 14 days, only consuming water and a prebiotic solution. Despite consuming no actual food, the subjects reported having no hunger pains or cravings throughout the 14 day period. The gut bacteria was well-fed by the prebiotic solution, therefore no hunger signals were being sent to the brain.

In addition to this, what kinds of foods we crave can also be linked to our gut bacteria. Some bacteria like to eat very sugary, fatty foods. Rather than having anything to do with “willpower,” our ability to choose healthy foods has a lot to do with what types of bacteria we have in our gut. The good news is, that if we can manage to resist these impulses to eat sugary, processed foods for a few days, those pesky bacteria will die out, taking the cravings along with them.

I was so blown away by all of this information, that I’ve been sharing it with anyone who will listen. Of course that means I had to make a post about it. Considering I only heard about this stuff a few hours ago, I wouldn’t recommend you simply take my word for it. But I do encourage all of you to look into it for yourselves. I certainly plan to do lots more research on this topic myself. I may even order the book The Energy Paradox by Dr. Steven Grundy, who was the guest on the podcast I listened to today. I absolutely adore learning new, helpful information like this. The implications of this knowledge are potentially life-changing.

A scientist explores the mysteries of the gut-brain connection |

Mindful Eating

My relationship with food has never been great. I honestly can’t even remember a time when my eating habits were truly healthy. Even as a young child, I would eat out of boredom all throughout the day, especially right before bed. Practically all of my memories of food involve eating alone, in front of a screen. I have always been accustomed to over eating. I never really learned how to tune in to the “hungry” or “full” signals my body was sending me. Whenever I would attempt to reign in my eating or go on a diet, it inevitably ended in an even worse result like over restricting, binging, or purging.

Even though food and eating was always a problem area in my life, it was a huge part of it nonetheless. Problems with food are especially tricky. Unlike other unhealthy addictions, food isn’t something that we can just “quit.” Imagine if an alcoholic needed alcohol throughout the day to live. I think it would be much harder to manage that than never touching liquor again. I really thought for most of my life that I was doomed to keep repeating the same unhealthy cycles with food, never truly finding a healthy balance.

A few years ago I stumbled upon a technique called mindful eating. I had heard it was effective for helping people to stop binge eating. I gave it a try in the past, but only managed to keep it up for couple meals. It is surprisingly hard to take away that mindless zoned out comfort of stuffing your face while watching your favorite shows. I told myself at the time that I just couldn’t handle giving that up. As sad as it may sound, it felt like my one joy, the favorite part of my day.

Fast forward to now, years of yoga and meditation later, and I am finally ready to try again. For the past three days I’ve been trying to live more mindfully in general, but especially when it comes to food and eating. It’s helped me to imagine how my meals would have been in the past when there was no technology to supplement them. I try to imagine generations upon generations of human beings who came before me having meals. I think, this is what a small piece of life must have felt like for my parents, my grandparents, etc. It helps me to feel connected even when I’m eating alone.

I sat down before my dinner last night and watched a couple short videos about how to eat mindfully. I actually began laughing at one point at the sheer absurdity of it all. What a strange world we humans have created for ourselves. A world where we are so disconnected from ourselves and our bodies that there are actually instructional videos on something as basic to our nature as eating. Even so, these videos reminded me of all the little pleasures of food that I have been so carelessly missing my whole life.

When was the last time you paused to smell your food before digging in? Have you ever touched the food to your lips before taking a bite? Do you let yourself eat with you hands when you can? Notice all of the many textures and shapes of this nourishing matter. Notice the colors and contours. Notice the way the mere presence of food illicits a reaction from the body. Our mouths starting to salivate in preparation for digestion. Take the time to eat as slowly, really exploring the way the food feels and tastes in your mouth.

It has been an amazing experience to get back in touch with my body and really start to savor and fully enjoy my food. It is fascinating to take the seat of the observer as I navigate my interactions with food. Mindful eating for me is definitely still something I need more practice with. It is surprisingly hard to sit in silence with my food. It is actually really challenging to eat slowly, to chew thoroughly. I can feel my body switching into autopilot as soon as my food is ready. As I am eating I constantly catch myself zoning out, entranced almost. It takes real effort to concentrate and eat with intention, utilizing all my senses.

I will say that even my far from ideal mindful eating practice has helped me tremendously. Not only with food, but in my life in general. I have been feeling much less anxious over these past few days. My body feels happy, healthy, and respected. I’ve been able to enjoy my food more and feel more satisfied after a meal. Although the urge to binge is still there, especially after dinner, I’ve managed to overcome that urge so far by making sure I am eating enough throughout the day.

For anyone struggling with an unhealthy relationship to food, I would highly recommend giving mindful eating a try. It has definitely been a challenge, but one that I am so excited to keep working at. If you’d like to read more about what mindful eating is and learn strategies for how best to practice it, I found a free pdf of the book Eating Mindfully by Susan Albers. One of the mindful eating videos I found recommended it and I am excited to check it out myself. I truly feel that a mindful eating practice is a beautiful way to get back to our roots as human beings and rediscover what it really means to be alive in these amazing bodies of ours.

Photo by Teona Swift on Pexels.com

Veganniversary

Nine years ago today, on my eighteenth Easter, I began the transition to a vegan diet. It’s always tough for me to know what to say when people ask me about when I became vegan. I probably wasn’t actually fully vegan until a couple of years later. More like a vegetarian, trying to make it to vegan. But I still want to give myself credit for those years I spent figuring things out. I’m not sure if other vegans count that transitional period as part of their vegan life or their pre-vegan life. I suppose some people might not have stumbled so much in the beginning like I did either.

My point is that I think intentions matter. I’m not trying to justify the support I gave to a monstrous industry out of personal weakness. I’m just saying that as an online community, vegans can be pretty ruthless to one another. I use to be one of these more ruthless vegans. I couldn’t help but lash out at vegetarians or vegans with “cheat days.” When it comes to such a serious and heart-rending issue as the lives and wellbeing of billions of animals, it’s only natural to get a little heated. However, it is also easy to turn a blind eye to our own past failings.

This post isn’t about calling out other vegans or myself. It’s about reminding myself and other long-time vegans out there not to forget where we came from. After nearly a decade adapting to this lifestyle, it can be easy to forget how impossible the change once seemed. Even though now it can be frustrating to hear people asking you the same ridiculous questions that they always have, keep answering them kindly. Keep being patient, even when you’d rather scream. A kind, thoughtful answer may not make the questioner go vegan, but a harsh response is guaranteed to turn them away from the idea entirely.

If you’ve read my other posts you may wonder why I even bother to care anymore. After all, I’ve said many times that I believe it’s too late to save the planet and life on earth as we know it. So why continue being vegan? Why do I care if other people go vegan or not? The simple answer to that question is suffering. I have always been sensitive to the idea of suffering. The mere existence of it is what caused me to lose my faith in a loving, all powerful god. And if there is no god to protect the innocent, I will. Or at the very least, I’ll do my best not to contribute to their suffering.

The crazy thing is that it doesn’t even feel like a conscious effort any more. I think one of the hard parts about going vegan is making that mental connection each time you decide what you’re going to eat or buy at the store. In the beginning making the right choice causes you pain because it makes you reflect on your impact in the world and the immense suffering and injustice that exists all around us. It is tempting to turn away, fall back into old habits, avoid thinking about it entirely. However, once veganism has become that comfortable, familiar habit, these painful feelings are reversed. The other day someone asked me if I would ever eat meat again. The idea alone left a bad taste in my mouth. I can’t even bring myself to look at the meat section in the grocery store. Those “foods” are a painful reminder of the atrocities humanity perpetrates on our innocent brethren. To eat a piece of meat is to eat a piece of flesh. It would be a willful decision to cast aside everything that I believe in in a way that it never was before going vegan. It would be simply impossible for me, painful even.

This drastic shift of consciousness that a vegan lifestyle elicits can make it hard for us to relate to the meat-eating masses. It’s tempting to try to forget that I was once one of them. When people ask me, I want to tell them that veganism was never a difficult choice to make, that it was always easy. But I am always honest instead. I tell them that it was hard for a long time. I tell them that I initially transitioned for selfish reasons, not out of a moral obligation to the animals I was eating. I tell them about the foods I miss eating and haven’t been able to replace. I let them know all of this. But I also let them know that despite all of that, becoming vegan was worth it. Becoming vegan was the best decision I ever made in my life. I would say I’m proud of that decision, but it just seems ridiculous to take pride in not harming others when that should be the default.

So if you are reading this post and you are not vegan, know that I don’t harbor any hatred or resentment towards you. I certainly don’t consider myself better than you, like a lot of people assume vegans do. What I hope you take with you from reading this is that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Choosing a salad instead of a steak at a single meal is a reason to rejoice. Deciding not to add cheese or a creamy dip or adding a non-dairy creamer to your coffee or switching to a plant based milk at home, these are all wonderful, meaningful steps to take that make a difference. And I don’t mean make a difference for the world necessarily, I mean they make a difference for the animals. It may seem like an abstract statistic when we think about meat and dairy sales, simple facts and figures. An output two digits smaller than the year before may seem utterly insignificant, but just remember that those numbers are lives, sweet, precious babies, like the pets your have at home. And these small choices make a difference to them. So just do your best. Do whatever you can, no matter how small. If a mentally ill, eighteen-year-old can go vegan on Easter and still being going strong nine years later, anyone can do it.

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