Some people may see me as eccentric, heck, I think that I'm eccentric. But I can't help it, the happiness that I feel inside is spilling in unpredictable and often unconventional ways. The joy of feeling my essence moving through me in radiant waves creates jolts of energy spiking as I come across new sources of inspiration. Life is beautiful, so very beautiful. Breathing is bound-defying, speaking is liberating, singing is exhilarating... Life is full of color. I want to share the color that I see with every person that I encounter. I don't care if I will be misunderstood or gossiped about. I have been given a gift to see the world in a more innocent way, in a way that allows me to recognize the magnificence of even smallest details - from the tiny ray of sun dancing on a wooden floor of my apartment, to clouds being marched by September wind, to fullness of color in the petals of a rose, to the sound of golden orange leaves rustling under my footsteps. Every breath we take we breathe in life. And every breath is followed by an exhale. And so it goes, in synch with the rhythm of all, the cycles of expansion and contraction, the cycles of life and death. Nothing is permanent, nothing stays still. It moves with the wind of life in a graceful orchestrated way. The drama of life, with its endless ups and downs, is nothing short of art in the making. Each moment is a unique representation of reality, never to be repeated again. What a waste it would be to fret about silly inconsequential things in life while missing the real deal!
Living an honest life takes a whole new meaning when it comes to following your internal guidance. The feeling that something’s amiss when we are compromising our values or going against who we are may be subtle but it is immediate and persistent. I am well familiar with it at this point in my life. I am and always was a terrible liar - even white lies take too much energy out of me. I don’t like pretending or playing along and I refrain from making promises that I can’t keep. All we know is what we feel at the moment and what we think we can do in the future, but the projection of imagined future is made from the place of here and now. Uncertainty in life makes this projection hypothetical, at best. Only by following internal guidance that keeps us honest with ourselves we can improve the odds of keeping our promises and eluding those that are ill-fated.
Last year was one of the most spiritual-growth stimulating years of my life. I was face to face with a dilemma about living a life without hiding or avoiding parts of who I am. Time for truth came when I met a woman who I fell in love with while I was in a relationship with a man. We had an emotional affair that left us both with scars. But, as all tough experiences in life, it forced learning and brought fresh perspective. I had to figure out what it meant to love a woman romantically, whether it made me gay or “confused”, as some people call bisexuals. I was hoping that I was gay, but that didn’t go very well either as I couldn’t pretend that I wasn’t into men. I had to face that I was somewhere in the middle, not fitting into labels yet again. It perplexed me that I was unable to clearly identify what or who it was that I wanted.
After a few months of mental back and forth from straight to gay, I finally stopped trying to categorize myself. The truth floated up, as it always does, once I stopped overanalyzing details of my life. All it took was a moment of pure being in which I accepted all parts of myself. At that moment I knew that the label wasn’t necessary and that there was absolutely nothing wrong with me. I wasn’t confused or indecisive. I just had an ability to be attracted to and love both men and women. It is all about connections that people share, emotional, physical and spiritual. This woman and I shared all of the above. She brought out my truth into the light. She made my spirit dance and sparkle with joy. Being with her made me feel authentic and peaceful. And that’s how real love should feel, no surprise that losing her was excruciatingly painful.
This experience served as a huge lesson and has changed every part of my being as I am no longer able to trick myself into living a “lie” contently. I am acutely aware when I am not meant to be with someone or when I am doing the work that is not of my calling. Getting to know yourself is a huge undertaking and a lifelong mission, but once light is shined on pieces of the puzzle, one must place them in their proper places and keep them there proudly holding head up high. It is important to get to know it all, without shunning away - the good, the bad, the beautiful and maybe somewhat embarrassing or even plain ugly. That’s what makes our experience in this life so rich - the ability to draw strength from what we think are the deepest and darkest corners of ourselves. Once these corners are discovered and explored, the fear dissipates as it was mostly the fear of the unknown. Being aware is the first step from which a true journey begins. It is an inward journey that brings change into your life, sweeping everything that you thought you knew and leveling the ground on which the future is to be built, the future which is full of meaning and purpose because your thoughts and actions will be aligned with your inner truth.
Modern lives here in a "civilized" world are hectic, to say the least. We are bombarded by things coming at us all day long. At work, at home and everywhere in-between there are responsibilities to take care of, goals and ambitions to pursue. The more we achieve, we more responsibility we take on. No wonder at all that most of us have a hard time managing our priorities or making sound decisions. And in our "spare" time, when we are commuting to work or sitting on the coach half-asleep watching TV, we are fed by advertisement to further impair our judgment and tell us what we should want from life and what is normal. The news makes us feel powerless and the lack of inspiration robs us of our right and responsibility to question what we can do to change the world to be a more peaceful harmonious place.
As an animal rights activist, I have talked to many people about taking steps to make a difference, and most become defensive or say that it doesn't matter because they are just one person and one person cannot change things. Deep down we all know that it isn't true, I can easily produce a list of amazing people who have singlehandedly changed the world, and so could anyone who takes a few moments to focus on remembering their contributions. We, the people, need to take pride in our humanity and learn humility, for all life is precious and it isn't just our species that have been awarded this amazing gift. And we need to snap out of this numbing haze that we find ourselves in and think about the consequences of our actions and about our contributions to what the world has become as a result of them. We need to take responsibility and adjust to a kinder, more compassionate way of living, to appreciate and honor ourselves, our human and non-human brothers and sisters and cherish our planet. Every individual deserves love and respect, including animals. When we stand up for them, we are also standing up for ourselves.
Most people claim that they want world peace and that they love animals, but when presented with an opportunity to shift to a non-violent way of living they hold on to old habits as if their life depended on it. I was stunned by the way my fellow Buddhists responded when I explained to them how raising animals for food promotes violence and wastes valuable natural resources. There was a moment of silence and then people started grasping at straws as to why they had to continue doing what they are doing despite the fact that billions of animals are dying every year in this country alone and before they die they are treated like machines, without any compassion, love or respect. If we truly want to work to promote world peace, we can't turn behavior that seeds from violence on and off as it’s convenient to us. If we participate in violence by producing and consuming animal products, we have a foundation of violence in our bodies and our minds. How can we then be peaceful with each other? Do we think that we can be violent at certain times and not at others? After being desensitized by the “necessary” violence, it becomes the norm and a habit.
I know that it isn't easy to face what is being done and take responsibility for your part as a consumer (which essentially translates to paying factory farms to kill the animals for you or enslave them in horrible conditions to save a buck during milk and egg production). It took me some time to get where I am, but now that I have fully grasped the reality of situation, I can see clearly that making excuses for irrational behavior is a sign of addiction. One should feel compassion for people who are addicted and for those who feel that their actions won't make a difference. And I do, but the bottom line is that the suffering of those beings that are treated as machines and slaughtered for food is so much more acute then what people who eat them ever experience. Sorrow that I feel in my heart is overwhelming at times and there is little room left for making sure that I don't step on people's toes. I try not to tell anyone what they should eat while they are eating it, but if you repeatedly comment on how good-looking “your” bacon is, I will mention without fail that it must have come from one-good looking pig and I won’t feel the need to apologize.
I have pledged my life to creating world peace through non-violence toward all living beings. I am committed to giving a voice to those whose cries cannot be heard by the time they become a meal and to our precious planet without which we cannot exist. We are not separate from one another, all of us - animals, humans and environment. Whatever happens to animals also has an impact on people, thus the prevalence of modern disease such as heart disease, cancer and AIDS. Whatever happens to the environment impacts not only the quality of our lives, but our very existence. It is common knowledge that we need air, water, food and shelter to survive. Then why are we letting factory farms pollute our water and soil? Why do we accept it as a normal practice to use poison to grow our crops and pay money for food pumped with chemicals and antibiotics, and sprayed with pesticide? We, the people, are fully capable of standing up for what's right and making a difference, even if the only action we take is refusing to give money to greedy farm factory owners and corporations which put profits above all else. We, the people, haven’t even scratched the surface of our true potential. It is time to live our lives to the fullest, healthy, happy and inspired, and to let other beings have what we want for ourselves - the right to be free.
"Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves." - Henry D. Thoreau
Henry D. Thoreau was a leading transcendentalist who believed that society and its institutions such as organized religion, political parties and government that stops serving its people ultimately corrupt the purity of an individual. I guess that I have always been a transcendentalist as well for I loathe any kind of authority over myself or my children and feel sorry for those who are not able to think for themselves. I believe that the government was created in order to provide structure for human societies and to look out for the best interest of its people and organized religions might have once been meager attempts to provide people with a tool that helped them cope with a harsh unpredictable reality of life. I say "might have" because of all the holy wars that were started in the name of god and all the people that were forced to practice a religion that was foreign to them or killed defending their beliefs. There is something seriously wrong with any religion that declares a holy war and proclaims that god supports us killing one another and reprimands anyone who disagrees with what it is preaching. And there is something wrong with any government that promotes the wealth and power of the few that are in influential positions while disregarding the welfare of the rest and turns a blind eye on the aimless waste of its natural resources by greedy corporations.
To my family's disappointment, Russian or Ukrainian culture and Christianity never appealed to me. Being spiritual, I had a lot of questions about nature and purpose of life. The violence and indifference that I saw in the world around me didn’t make sense. Even as a child, I had a different view of how the world should be and deep faith that it was possible to create it, if people tried hard enough. I longed for a philosophy that would allow me to explore my inner world to a greater extent and after struggling with the cultural misalignment for years as a child and a young adult, I made a decision to seek my own truth. I see life as an endless stream of questions. Answers are found when sought and then new questions are formed from the higher level of conscious understanding. The purpose of our lives is to learn and develop, and that can't be done from the state of fear, denial or obedience. A seeking spirit should never be confined!
A few disturbing encounters in the last few weeks fired me up to urge people to wake up from whatever dream that they are sleepwalking through as I realized that acceptance in our society is hard to come by. Some people just can't accept when others think or do things that go against their upbringing or choices in life. Culture is the playground for adults. It is where children, born with innate ability to recognize that such differences are inconsequential, are taught to discriminate and to exclude. With time, they too will take pride in being a privileged member of a religion, race or heritage and start living out of habits of their ancestors. They too will become convinced that they are right to the point of trying to strip others of their human rights and liberties. I remember the outrage last summer over gay marriage law that NY state government has finally passed. A man outside the church in his community was furious that such thing should be allowed. He said that it doesn’t work for him, but nobody is making him do anything that he doesn’t agree with. It is between people who love each other that now have the right to join in a civil union and has absolutely nothing to do with him. I wonder where his preoccupation with what others do with their lives comes from and why he is so certain that he’s right and they’re wrong!
I have officially emancipated myself of all religious establishments because it became painfully obvious that they all, without exception, try to fit people in their view of the world, leaving no space for spiritual exploration. I have been chased by madmen with “Bibles” enough. It is now time to stand tall and firm, proclaiming my independence. Only I decide where my boundaries are because I live out of the box. As a free spirit and a citizen of the world, I serve no person and no social or religious organization. I don't follow any traditions that don't completely make sense to me. And I am yet to find any that do. Therefore, I pledge my life only to the love and peace that is the foundation of the universe itself. I play in other people's "sandboxes" of cultures. I pick and choose what brings joy to my heart and enlivens my spirit. Tradition can be beautiful and I understand its importance in people's lives. It can serve as an instrument of unity within the cultural group. However, tradition can also become a tool of separation. At first it’s something like "us and them" and then grows further into "us against them". But, in reality, we are all one. We are all sparks of Devine consciousness that in this lifetime chose to incarnate into human form on this planet. A person of one cultural background can potentially become a person of another, it is a choice that we made and continue making on daily basis. We can be anything that our hearts desire. And shouldn’t our hearts desire peace, love and freedom above all?
Through Buddhist practice and meditation I saw that we all carry everything we need inside us and that there are numerous ways to access these treasures. It is not important what name we give to the higher power, as long as we realize that we are all essentially referring to the same thing and that the higher power is an integral part of each of us, waiting to be recognized and awakened. A person’s existence on this planet is not confined to a social bubble where he or she belongs, we are all citizens of the world, whether we acknowledge it or not. There is no separation between us but in our minds! There will be no lasting peace and happiness in the world until people start caring enough to transcend the differences that they were conditioned to see by their cultures, religions and governments. The boundaries of separation so carefully built by countless generations of ancestors need to come down so that people can start to think for themselves and live from the perspective and wisdom of their souls.
I finally left behind the dark cloud that was following me wherever I went since the move to the “new” office room at work. In the wake of the misery I read my own blog and asked myself if I am a coward. How can I write that people should leave jobs and relationships that make them unhappy (and mean it from the bottom of my heart) and then hesitate when my own job had such a negative effect on my health and emotional well-being? For a few days I felt like a big fake. I pride myself for being able to walk the talk, so to speak, and when the situation arose where I had to make a decision, I felt insecure, useless and vulnerable. My thoughts were going back and forth from being determined to quit and starting something new to settling for much less than I deserved for the sake of a decent paycheck and financial security. It is alarming how close I came to quitting my job. It is alarming how close I came to losing my center, my inner peace. The whole time I knew that I had to do something to get in a better mood and start seeing things clearer and brighter, but I just couldn’t do it. I took turns between feeling like a fraud and a self absorbed human being who just wanted to prove to the world that she was brave enough to quit and be successful no matter what risks were involved. As a cautious person, I don’t have a habit of walking out on my job if I have a bad day or two. I usually give it a lot of thought and then at some point recognize the fact that everything in life is constantly moving and that whatever problem is bothering me at the moment will pass like all the other problems that bothered me in the past. Most problems are insignificant in a great scheme of things and aren’t worth losing sleep over.
On Sunday night I decided to stay home the next day in order to take the kitten to the doctor and to clean up myself and the house. I was a mess and my house reflected that like a mirror. While I cleaned and ran around catching up on my errands, I made an inner compromise. Instead of continuing to see myself as selfish or cowardly I came to terms with the reality that I wasn’t superhuman and decided to work on being patient and to give the office environment a chance without depressing or angry attitude. I also decided that I didn’t need to have a set mentality of what my main job will be until I retire. I am free to do whatever I want, to follow my heart and adjust my plans any time I see fit. I was going to take it a day at a time until it became easier and then I was going to take it a week at a time, but by the end of the day I was able to hold a year, two and even three in my positive projection of the future without frustration. I don’t have to work for the city for another twenty something years! Why did I ever think that I did? I locked myself in that image and then, when placed in the room without windows, air flow and in major need of a paint job, I freaked out because I saw myself trapped in that “dungeon” until retirement while in reality even a day was unbearable. Sometimes we are upset, but we don’t have a clear understanding of why. To find the answer to the problem we need to seek its roots. Here were the roots of my anxiety - the image of myself sitting in the room as it was for years to come, miserable and depressed. However, when I let go of the projection that this is something that I am tied in to, I was able to change the image of myself to being happy, buoyant and upbeat out in the world doing things that bring me joy. I am where I choose to be and every moment is a chance to make a different choice. If someone is in an abusive relationship, they should let go and leave. But if someone is in a place that is not perfect, they should evaluate the situation and either work to make it better or find a different path. The decision shouldn’t be impulsive. Take your time and make sure that it was made for the right reasons and if it was, you will know because you will be at peace with yourself and the rest of the world.
With each breath we take in the positive or the negative of our surroundings and most of the time we aren’t even aware that we are doing it. Because I have experienced and therefore came to expect highs of peaceful awareness I am very sensitive to being disconnected from it. I compare the state of awareness to an immaculately clean room and the mind infiltrated by negativity to a messy room where the addition of more dirt or dust will go unnoticed. When the bright clean room is exposed to dirt, its soiled parts will be easily noticeable because they are at odds with everything else. We all have the bright clean room within us, but if we don’t work on keeping it clean, it will become the messy room of negative thoughts and destructive patterns that deprive our lives of joy. Pursuit of happiness is a never ending practice. I live and I learn. And then I live some more and I feel the need to find my ground, my balance in this hectic, often unenthusiastic world. Once in a while I feel the need to escape to a brighter, warmer place where sun shines, wind caresses and instead of traffic noise you can hear children laughing. I want to be surrounded by gardens and fields and seemingly endless roads that invite my feet to explore them… But for now I am making a conscious choice to stay where I am and improve my surroundings by bringing positivity out from within me and making the world around me a better place. I live for inspiration, to be inspired and to inspire. I live for joy of being alive.
October is a breast cancer month. There are a number of walks sponsored by big corporations to draw our attention to the problem and to raise more money for finding a cure. As great as it is that money is raised and women are reminded to self examine their chest for early detection, it really is not enough. Early detection is not prevention, by any means. And although it greatly increases the chances of survival, the person still has to go through an incredible amount of suffering. There must be a better way! And there is - multiple studies have been done on relationship between diet and health, and diet and cancer specifically. It has been shown that a person has a huge say in the matter, even though we are led to believe otherwise. Genetics play a small role in causing cancer. It is said that in reality only about 5 percent of cases are related to inherited genes, all other cases are connected to environment and behavioral patterns.
As a society, we are conditioned to think that we need meat and dairy to be healthy. We are bombarded by endless commercials of fast food, junk food, frozen dinners, milk for calcium ads, cleaning products, makeup and such. The companies pay a lot of money to make sure people buy their products, and it works – most of the people spend their money on the things that look desirable on TV. But, if you think about it for a second, it is easy to realize that people are not the ones benefiting from consumption of those products. Most cleaning products contain highly toxic substances and we seem to be proud of that. In our obsession to get rid of germs and dirt and attempts to make life easier for ourselves we are willing to overlook that the substances are harming us as well. We inhale the toxins as we breathe. They enter our bodies though our skin. I was surprised that even something as innocent as makeup often contains cancer causing chemicals and substances that damage our nervous and reproductive systems. I think that once we realize that primary reason of advertisements is to make profit for the manufacturer, it will be easier for us to take them with a grain of salt and question whether something will or will not benefit us.
As a first step, I started with eating consciously, meaning that I was aware of what I was putting in my body as food. I looked at each item carefully, read the labels and determined if my body will benefit or be harmed by my choice. It is not about calorie counting and it is not about fat content or sugar content or how much the food was artificially enriched with vitamins. The easy way to determine if something is good for you is seek foods that haven’t been processed at all, like fresh raw fruits and vegetable and to eliminate foods that contain over processed ingredients such as white flour, sugar (choose an occasional dried cane juice, honey or dates instead), salt (choose sea salt or just go with extra lemon juice which is an excellent addition to a salad), white rice, fructose corn syrup, oil that has been heated (heating oil molecules breaks their structure converting them to something that is not only indigestible by our bodies but also to something that can harm us), frozen dinners and foods that have been microwaved (the process of heating foods in the microwave also breaks the molecular structure of the food making it toxic, even carcinogenic).
The harmful food list can go on and on. In fact, it seems that most of the supermarket foods should be on the taboo list, that’s how low we have scooped where it comes to nutrition in this day and age. Food doesn’t mean nutrition to the most of us - it means taste and convenience instead. But can you nourish your body in any way solely on taste and convenience? Of course not - and that is why there are so many overweight and malnourished individuals in the US today. There are no advertisements that tell the public that animal products such as red meat, poultry, eggs and dairy greatly increase our chances of suffering from heart disease, cancer and diabetes (among other things). There is no fast paced monologue that follows a burger commercial listing potential side effects as in case of an advertisement of a new drug that is being introduced to the market. There is no requirement for it, no profit to be made from such a disclosure and a great deal of money spent by the meat and dairy industry to deny the facts found in research.
So, since we cannot expect the entities that benefit from selling those items to acknowledge the role they play in harming our health and to spend some money informing the public of remarkable findings of various research studies, we need to rely on our own judgment and on sources that are trustworthy and don’t have vested interest in what we consume to provide us with this information. One of such examples is John Robbins, the person who was supposed to inherit Baskin Robbins and who walked away from the family business and its fortune to be true to himself. Early on he recognized the connection between diet and health and has worked hard to educate people about proper nutrition. It is easy to see that companies that make millions and sometimes billions of dollars from sales have a conflict of interest and that people who willingly walk away from fortunes have a sincere goal to improve the lives of ordinary people.
Bottom line is that people need to know and I am willing to be scoffed at and hated by the companies that might lose potential profit. If that’s what it takes, so be it! From more places we hear about products that are harmful to us - the better. The more people stand up who are aware of the benefits that a healthful diet can provide - the better. Sometimes a piece of information has to be presented to us from countless sources to convince us that there is something to it and worth looking into, even if it means that one has to go against what is widely accepted by our society. I think that we can all greatly benefit from an awareness walk, a walk that will truly contribute to preventing and possibly healing cancer. What is more beneficial - a walk for early detection of one cancer or a walk that significantly reduces our chances of getting a whole spectrum of cancers as well as other sicknesses that cause countless deaths which could have been prevented if people had the knowledge and weren’t so afraid to step out of the norm?
For me, starting the day with yogic sun salutations is like turning the inner light on and aligning all the aspects of my life with each other. While my body is working physically, stretching, holding poses, finding balance, the mind unwraps itself of the unnecessary thoughts that often obstruct clarity. The spirit seems to grow stronger as the warm joyful energy smoothly flows through the body, penetrating every cell and nourishing it with its healing power. I feel peace and love toward the universe. I am at home within my body. The flow of action and relaxation is life itself and long after I am done with my morning yoga I will be synched with that rhythm, breathing deeply, calmly, inherent integrity preserved and maintained by the strong sense of self throughout the daily activities.
Yoga is my favorite form of exercise for a variety of reasons. It conditions the body and increases its strength and flexibility. It works from the inside out, activating every possible muscle there is. Simultaneously with toning, it promotes detoxification. Cleansing the body of toxins is as important as strength, even more so because the body will always have some harmful elements that will need to be eliminated. These toxins are either a product of metabolism or have entered our bodies with food, air or through the skin. If not expelled, they will cause havoc in the body (as well as mind and spirit).
Balancing poses help me find my center, literally and figuratively speaking. Even on one foot with limbs spread like a bird, leaning forward until the balance is achieved I feel firmly planted on the ground. And then, through the day that balance remains. If something sways it, I just need to breathe deep and focus, as if entering a balancing pose. Sometimes, if my immediate environment permits, I actually do a tree pose and reap deeper balancing benefits. I am reminded that life is all about the balance and an integration of numerous aspects that cannot exist without each other. No matter what happens to disturb it, I have the power to find my center again.
In the past, I used to focus on jogging and aerobics. My primary goals were physical fitness and stress relief. I still occasionally enjoy these physical activities, but now my focus is on efficiently covering all of my needs with one workout instead of doing one for the cardio and fat loss, one for toning and one for stretching. Also, I don’t miss my trips to the chiropractor because of the knee aches that were caused by too much running. Yoga is much gentler on the body. I can do it every single day, whereas with aerobics and even more so with running, I had to take frequent breaks as the knee pain would return after three or more days of strenuous exercise.
I read somewhere that walking on the ground barefoot has grounding and energizing effect. No wonder I always preferred to walk barefoot as a child, and even as adult, I love the way the earth feels under my feet. I especially enjoy walking barefoot on the grass - I get the tickling sensation that spreads from my feet upward into the rest of me, revitalizing me from my toes to the crown of my head. In a sense, I feel like a blossoming tree with moveable roots planted deep in the ground. I am grounded and sturdy, but not restricted in any sense. That’s another reason why yoga appeals to me - I get to practice barefoot! The vibrations of the earth and my feet are merged while I am on my yoga mat saluting the sun and the earth, flowing like water and opening my heart in the infinite space of the air to life and its endless potential for love.