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.
Last February I began my journey toward health with an introduction of raw food lifestyle into my life. I have experienced amazing improvements in health and overall well being. Now that my awareness was awakened there was no way for me to go back to how things were and I didn’t want to. Some days it was hard to follow the lifestyle. I slipped up. I got frustrated and overwhelmed at time. I wished there were more people around who sought health by bringing balance back to the body. At times I seemed at odds with the world as I persisted on this newfound path, step by step, thought by thought, day by day, mostly on my own. I read one book after another on raw food and natural healing. Books helped, but I craved human connections, others to share my journey with.
My desire to connect with people that have similar mindset brought me to Living Foods Institute (LFI) in Atlanta. I originally came across their website in March or April and right away I knew that I wanted to go. It was going to be tough to take time off for myself for ten days because that wasn’t something that I was used to doing. For some reason it felt selfish to dedicate time for healing, but by now I knew better than to give in to negative thoughts of my restless mind. There is nothing more important than health and taking time off to heal so that I can be a more positive and capable presence in lives of those who I love is not selfish in the least. And so I made another wishful determination - I was going to go to LFI in the coming year. By some miracle or law of universal attraction I was presented with such an opportunity in about six months. I booked for February without another nagging afterthought, it was my wish manifesting. I took the gift with gratitude and joyful excitement.
It is funny how future is always so different from what we expect. I wanted to go to Atlanta to learn more about raw food (in case a tidbit of important information managed to escape my attention after reading a dozen of books), to get hands on experience preparing recipes and, of course, to meet others who were interested in this kind of lifestyle. Lucky me, I got so much more than I would have ever anticipated. Let me start by saying that the whole place was physically created with love. From the moment you walk in on the first morning of classes to the evening of graduation from the program on day ten, you are literally surrounded by positivity and joy. It is so drastically different from the “real” world that it takes some getting used to before one can let the guard down and take a deep breath. Worries and negative thoughts dissipated one by one in each one of us who attended the seminar and we relaxed into a mindset of healing.
About thirty perfect strangers timidly introduced themselves. Some came in hopes to heal a life-threatening illness and others wanted to learn more about raw living food to prevent illness from ever occurring. I had tremendous respect for them all - it takes guts to follow your inner voice and to go against what is commonly accepted. One of the first things we were taught was the importance of positive attitude. Healing starts in the mind. It is a thought and a feeling of being healthy. Thus the routine of daily affirmations practiced at the center to reinforce our positive beliefs. Our emotions play an integral part in either creating or disrupting the balance in our bodies. When the negative feelings of pain, fear, regret or anger are held on to for a long time, they produce blockages of energy in our physical bodies and we manifest sickness or “dis-ease”. Therefore, a path to health is through finding balance on all levels – physical, emotional and spiritual.
For ten days we prepared and ate only organic raw vegan foods and, contrary to popular assumption, no one was starving. We cleansed physically and emotionally, and even though some days were painful for some of us, we kept smiling and supporting each other on this journey because we understood that the process of releasing toxins is an essential part of healing. With each day we bonded with each other more and more as our hearts opened to give and receive love. We weren’t perfect strangers any longer as we witnessed each other’s pain when feelings bottled inside for years, or even decades, came to the surface with the help of healing foods and therapies. We cried and laughed together. We shared without holding back. We found new ways to let go of the past and to forgive. We discovered how similar we all are deep down, no matter what religion we followed or didn’t follow, no matter if we were rich or poor, what race we were thought to belong to or how we previously viewed ourselves. We were there on a mission to heal ourselves peacefully and with respect toward the planet and our bodies, and to discover an even bigger mission called life, which is the process of spiritual growth through giving and receiving unconditional love.
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.
Ever since I can remember I was surrounded by plants and animals as a child. My grandparents lived in a house with a big yard where we grew grapes, strawberries, raspberries, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce and herbs. We had fruit trees scattered all over the yard. As far as the garden was concerned, life was organic and full of taste. And there was always someone to pet, someone to love who needed caring affection. When my family moved from Ukraine to the US, we were separated from my grandparents and from that kind of life. My mom often yearns for a piece of land to plant something and make it grow. She loves the smell of soil and the muddy earth on her hands. I miss being close to the land as well and sometimes wish that I owned an apple orchard. I would get lost in the fruit paradise on a cool summer afternoon and find that peace once again, one with nature, eating my favorite fruit right off a tree, juicy and nurturing, its nectar - the cleanest water on Earth. One day I will plant dozens or maybe even hundreds of apple trees, but for now I am content with one enormous cat tree that’s taking up a corner of the living room in my small apartment… well that, and my two amazing cats that I get to pick off it as if they were fruit.
Cats, amazing – I know, not everyone is a cat person, but they truly are wonderful little creatures that light up my life. My son and I got our first cat four years ago from North Shore Animal League as a birthday present for me. It was a very hard time for both of us because I just got separated from my then husband. I was sad, angry, anxious about the situation and worried about my son who wasn’t taking it very well. He loved his dad and being five and a half couldn’t understand why all of a sudden his parents weren’t living together anymore and why they were fighting any time they were around each other. All the yelling and crying of the pervious few months has also taken a toll on him and he was very sad and apathetic. I don’t know what was hurting me more - things that were going on between me and his father or seeing my son this way. I only knew one thing, it was going to get worse for all involved if I didn’t get my wits together and ended that unfortunate ordeal. Time heals everything, they say, so I just took deep breaths and did my best. It was a natural progression of thought, a knowing of a kind that whispered in my ear one day that we needed a cat. My son loves animals and was thrilled when I told him that we are going to adopt a kitten. And so we went to the Animal League with intent to find a perfect kitten to be a part of our small family.
There were cages full of dogs and puppies, cats and kittens. It was heartbreaking to see them locked behind metal bars, unable to run around as animals should, but these were the lucky few that had a chance of staying alive and being adopted and loved. My son and I picked up and petted different kittens, there were so many to pick from that our heads started spinning. We walked around wondering how we were going to choose. Just then I kneeled down to see a kitten in one of the lower cages, she was a skinny little thing, a tabby with big ears and intelligent eyes. My son and I asked to hold her and when we did she purred loudly, selecting us to take her home and be her family. I haven’t seen my son smile so much in a long time. Even though the kitten made herself comfortable without hesitation in our apartment, he followed her everywhere as she walked around with her tail up, purring and sniffing, sniffing and purring. And when he went to sleep, she nestled close to him and stayed there all night, occasionally grooming his hair. She did that every night until he notably cheered up and started smiling not only at home (both of us couldn’t help but smile when around her), but in school and out when playing with friends. It is amazing that one little kitten had the power to bring joy to our injured hearts with her mere presence. But that’s what pets do - they extend our hearts, heal us, show us the way to brighter more joyful lives. They are our companions and our friends. They teach us to love deeper, without selfishness, without holding back our affection and by that they fix the parts of us that were broken. They feel when we are sad or in pain and they comfort us. It is not a coincidence that Kisa chose to sleep next to my son when he was upset and that she still does that whenever he has a bad day. She cuddles next to my stomach when I have a stomachache and purrs my discomfort away.
There is an overabundance of animals in shelters and on the streets needing a home and a loving family. It is a distressing reality that many animals are killed simply because nobody wants them, as if it is their fault that they were born and haven’t found someone to love and protect them. There are plenty of families that could use some healing and an infusion of hope from feeling compassion. Why not adopt a pet and help each other? As people give love, so they shall receive. As people let themselves feel affection, their hearts grow stronger, bigger and brighter. And with that physical and emotional healing occurs and their spirits are set free from the suffering of the past.