My mom and I were convinced by the book and I was willing to try it, there was no point waiting until the health was declined to the point when one is bedridden before “scooping down” to unconventional methods that others scoffed at. “Cures cancer, ha!” – most people said, “Wouldn’t doctors know about this?” My boyfriend was very skeptical and, like most people I was surrounded by, discouraged me from undertaking the “experiment”. It was very hard for him to watch me change in front of his eyes. All over a sudden I didn’t drink coffee, milk or soda anymore, nor did I eat any processed foods, foods containing heated oil, white flour, sugar or meat. Some days everything I ate was raw and vegan. I fervently defended my newfound beliefs and to provide him with more evidence I started researching holistic healing online. There were so many stories of people overcoming serous and “incurable” illnesses and they were all talking about the Raw Food Vegan Diet. I got numerous books on the subject and hungrily read them. After dealing with negativity and disbelief from friends and coworkers, I wanted to establish connections with people with similar mindset and reading those books was almost like talking to people who wrote them.
The biopsy results came back negative! I was to be retested again later in the year. I breathed a sigh of relief and continued to chant and read. I wasn’t switching back to Standard American Diet (SAD, it really is sad!) now that I knew the things that I knew. My eyes have been opened and in a way I am glad that the whole incident happened. It caused me to really delve into my being, to learn and discover things that I was not aware of, important things that every person should know so that they can make educated decisions about their health. By April, after a month of closely following the system I finally overcame a three week “cold” that I was having, lost 18 pounds (I went a little faster than was suggested when switching, thus creating a sped up process of detoxification), going back to my high school weight and had loads of energy to run in circles if I wanted to. My stomach problems that tormented me on almost daily basis were gone, the allergies, and with them constant sneezing and sinus headaches, were nonexistent.
After the initial key switch to eat more naturally, I continued experimenting with foods that were still on the menu and eliminated a few more. By June, I was vegan (except for honey) and proud! I wanted to stop eating meat for the longest time, ever since I became a Buddhist. Nichiren Daishonin Buddhism doesn’t have a requirement for people to be vegetarians, it is something that each one of us has to come to realize on our own, but I always knew that one day I will do it. I love animals and eating flesh disturbs and disgusts me. Any time that I ate meat in the past, I had to pretend that it wasn’t a piece of an animal that I had in my mouth. I have to admit that some of it, clean boneless stakes and white chicken meat, tasted good, as long as the thought of what it was that I was eating didn’t cross my mind. Sometimes it did and I then I had to urgently search for a napkin to spit the food out before it caused me to gag.
Just like my ex-husband dismissed my interest in Buddhism as another one of my unfinished projects, my boyfriend didn’t think that the whole “I don’t eat meat anymore” streak would last. Well, I have been chanting for almost eight years and have no intention of ever stopping. The same goes for being vegan. Just because something is new doesn’t mean that it isn’t serious! Besides, there isn’t one reason for me to come back to eating meat. Innocent animals live a life of suffering, get tortured and then get killed so that humans can have some food on their plates that they can’t even digest properly because their bodies aren’t made for assimilating animal protein. Growing stock for meat consumption majorly contributes to pollution of our environment. It isn’t good for my health and even the idea of tasting it is repelling. There is no more pretending that the stake is not some poor cow dissected in pieces. I can see its sad eyes looking at me with horror as it is being jolted by a shock of electricity. I want to weep for it. I want to beg its forgiveness for my greedy selfish appetite of the past, for other people who don’t know any better and for those who just don’t give a damn. Humans have been rewarded with independence, intelligence and creativity. But we, misunderstanding the gift announced that we are superior to all and let our egos grow out of proportion. Instead of fulfilling our roles as the protectors of the Earth, we selfishly proceed to mow everything that stands in the way of getting what we want.
An abrupt awakening to a possible challenge that my body was facing last February got me revisiting my existing beliefs about health, doctors and food. After the initial shock subsided and I could again think somewhat clearly, I decided that I was done relying on others when it came to my health. As a Buddhist, I know that I am responsible for my health, my happiness and my wellbeing. There is no external source to pray to, no predetermined destiny to follow without having a say. Therefore, I have the freedom to choose what I’ll do and what kind of effects I’ll create in my life. I continuously applied this to my life in all other aspects, except for when I fell ill, that is. I chanted for positive energy and best doctors, which is all good and well. But I forgot, or rather it didn’t occur to me, to chant about what I can do to help myself. However, in case of this particular challenge, passing the reins of my life to doctors was simply not an option.
I took a walk, letting the cool February air sober me up and get me focused on the task at hand - being healthy. Immediately, all other worries not only seemed insignificant in comparison, but it became clear that I had to be more relaxed about everyday things that I often stress myself over in order for them not to become the very reasons of my disease. I am a workaholic and at times when there is a problem at work I would still search for a solution while I ride on a train, exercise, or wash dishes at home. There seemed to be no boundary where my job ends and my personal life begins, I was all merged and as a result of that my work duties tended to transgress on everything else in my life. I would often skip meals, stay late, and back in the day when I was still married, come to work on an occasional Saturday “to catch up”. It wasn’t healthy or fair, and it had to stop because the stress that my attitude toward work was generating was contributing to my health problems. As I walked and sipped ginger tea that replaced my usual morning coffee I saw hope ahead.
I started reading the book that my mom urged me to read for years now. The author of the book, Maya Gogulan, was seriously ill. She was bedridden for over a year and was deemed to die by her doctors. She was slowly approaching her end when she found out about Nishi System of Health. This system combines a diet rich in raw fruits and vegetables with special exercises that improve circulation and help detoxification that even people who are bedridden can do, thus cleansing the body of toxins and nourishing it so that it could heal itself. Within few months of eating this way and performing the exercises she was not only out of bed, but leading a normal life, completely overcoming her illness. She surprised doctors when she came by the hospital, they thought that she surely died by then. But, as amazed by her miraculous recovery as they were, no one was interested in learning how she did it. The doctors wanted to continue doing what they were doing. So, being a journalist, she took it upon herself to let people know about their options by writing books and giving lectures. Through her knowledge many were able to overcome cancer, the tumors shrank in front of the doctors eyes. As part of her book, Maya included research done by renowned dietitians on the effects that different foods have on our bodies, the role of vitamins, minerals and enzymes, and the consequences of taking over the counter and prescription drugs. As I read the book it all started to fall into place and make sense. The way our bodies work is amazing, we don’t give them enough credit! Instead, we over abuse them, poison them and take them for granted. I gained tremendous appreciation and respect for my body, it is truly a temple!
We live in a competitive material world, and while it is absolutely essential for us to be able to support ourselves, the aggression and the never ending pursuit of financial gain slowly strip our lives of joy. Everyone who has a full time job knows that the job becomes a big part of who we are. Because we spend the majority of our waking hours at work or commuting to and from work, there is little time left for anything else. In general, my day is extremely hectic – wake up, do morning yoga, get my son and myself ready for the day, take him to school, get to work, work, lunch with a few minutes of chanting/meditation, back to work, get home, pick up my son from afterschool, dinner, review homework, if lucky, there is a little time left to do some cleaning, if very lucky, there is some time to do more chanting/meditation, if very, very lucky, there is some time to do something creative, and then story time and bedtime for us both. With that kind of routine, I have got to either enjoy what I do or expect a nervous breakdown. And I am one of the people who seldom, if ever work overtime. I can only imagine what some people feel after working ten, sometimes twelve, hour days. When do they see their families? When do they do anything that they enjoy? Do they have any energy left but to collapse in exhaustion?
More and more people are becoming the lemons of greedy corporations. They are being squeezed till the last drop to produce. More profit for the company, perhaps more wealth for stockholders – how nice, we feel prosperous as a country. As if stock prices were a valid measure of happiness that common people are experiencing in their daily lives. Instead, it is the despair and the uncertainty that they tend to reflect. The more money we make, the more we think that we need to accomplish financially to be happy. There is always something that we haven’t achieved yet that is stopping us from fully enjoying what we have. Comparing ourselves to others is something that happens naturally, without much thought. However, it is not constructive in any way to feel inadequate just because someone has a bigger home or a nicer car, or earns more money. I admit, at times it is hard for me to pass a beautiful house without a thought that I should somehow figure out a way to get one of those, or to see someone with 400 dollar shoes on and a fancy outfit and not to feel poor for a second in my everyday clothes and somewhat worn-out sandals. It isn’t easy, but nothing is impossible and we have to try because there will always be someone who is wealthier, more beautiful, having something that we desire and don’t yet have. It took some practice to silence the hunger for material things and be able to pass something that I would fervently desire without a feeling of urgency to immediately acquire it.
Buddhism is the science of life and it teaches in its common sense way that while desires are and will always be a part of our lives, they shouldn’t dictate how we live. Our lives should instead be aimed at balancing all three aspects of true prosperity – beauty, gain and value. Beauty is accomplished by creating something from the heart and having the time to see it in the world around ourselves. Gain is the financial security that a good job supplies. Without it our basic needs for food, water and shelter will not be met. Value is an ability to positively and productively contribute to our environment, be it our society or the world on a bigger scale. In this day and age, it is very rare that a job will satisfy all three. The focus seems to be mostly on gain, choosing beauty or value will most of the time lead to poverty and while some of us bravely storm through life following their passions without a penny to their name, others count their possessions and try to convince themselves that having a job they intensely enjoy is awfully unrealistic.
I am rich with experiences that taught me appreciation for life. When I look at my life as it is at the moment and ask myself if I am happy and if I am doing my best to live it to the fullest, all that matters is how I feel about it and how I feel about myself. The career is not the first thing that comes to mind and it is not the second. Treasures of the heart make my life full, not the number of properties that I own. Did I love enough? Did I laugh enough? Those are the questions that I ask myself. I am ambitious. I take pride in my skills and in my success. I need to have a job that I enjoy doing. I need to be able to support myself and my son, to live comfortably and to be financially secure. However, I am not interested in trying to get rich while my life is slipping away without anything happening that’s worth remembering. Ambition is important, but once you pass the invisible boundary separating reasonable striving for success with a seemingly inevitable all-consuming obligation, the reward at the end of that tunnel is not really worth it.
A day before my birthday my mom, my brother, my son and I went out to eat, but for some strange reason the restaurant that I wanted to go to was closed. My boyfriend teased that it wasn’t strange at all that one of the few Raw Food restaurants in Queens will be closed down. I felt sad, disappointed and cheated out of a healthy meal as we headed to Chilies’ instead, my brother was hungry and he just had to eat something. We arrived and were seated promptly. The waiter was very pleasant and respectful of my finicky vegan requests, “No cheese, no cream, no bacon, got it”. I found something decent to eat and even though it wasn’t organic (good luck finding that when eating out!!) or all raw (I had some brown rice and beans on the side for my big salad), and definitely made with table salt (hate that cooks put that crap in the food and call themselves chefs), I enjoyed it with realization that it didn’t have to be all or nothing kind of deal.
For me, a true Virgo perfectionist, this is a huge step away from the very principles that drive me forward. Everything needs to be in order and I need to be in control of every situation that I am involved in, well at least as far as it comes to me and everything that has to do with me. Giving up control is not something that I like to do, so you would never see me drunk or riding crazy roller coasters. I always wear a seatbelt, even as a passenger in the back seat. I imitate the beeping sound that the car makes when someone in the front seat is driving without a seat belt without thinking about it. My boyfriend, who has a nasty habit of driving around without buckling up, complains that I am annoying, and that’s when I usually realize that I am making the beeping sound again, “Sorry, just want you to be safe.” How selfish of me, but I want people that I love to stay around longer! Driving without a seatbelt to me is asking for an early departure.
However uncomfortable it is for me to accept that life is rarely if ever perfect, if I look for that feeling of perfection and tie it in with happiness on top of that, I will never be happy or content and spend my life on an unrealistic quest toward an unreachable goal in misery. Buddhism teaches that happiness is not the absence of problems and I totally agree. I filed for a divorce, had a surgery and was in a car accident within three month of each other in 2007, but through every challenge I was accompanied by protection – an order of protection from the Family Court, a doctor that I have personally known and trusted my life to and a seat belt together with a sense of calm that enabled me to respond the best possible way for us to stay alive. Thankfully, I don’t leave a husband with anger issues, go through emergency surgeries or collide with Hummers every day!!! I don’t wish that on anyone, especially if they don’t feel any pain relief even after being given morphine. Suffering seems to be an inseparable part of life, and yet there is always an ability to feel joy, no matter what the circumstances are. 2007 was the most difficult year for me, but all through the challenges and even physical pain I was able to feel happiness - I was alive, I was free and I was starting over. From major life emergencies to a disappointment over a closed restaurant, we are constantly reminded that absolute happiness is within us and can’t be taken away. Life is truly not an “all or nothing kind of deal”.