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.
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.
It’s often said that people can't appreciate something or someone until it is gone. Probably one of the most taken for granted treasures is health. Most of us are born with it and are unaware of any other way of being until we discover that sickness is truly a state of suffering. I was born with the wonderful gift of beaming health, but almost died in childhood of pneumonia which kept returning over and over again. All through childhood I have struggled with colds and flu. At twenty nine I had a surgery to remove a benign growth off my small intestine. Five days in the hospital and twenty pounds lighter, I came home with a new outlook on hospitals and sickness and an attitude of gratitude for still being alive. My time at the hospital when I was a child is forgotten, but the few days I spent there about four years ago are fresh in my memory. I remember waking up from surgery to blindingly bright light and nausea so overwhelming that I thought that I surely would vomit all over the nurse that was checking on me in the ICU. I probably would have, but I lost consciousness again and don't remember anything until I was woken up by two other nurses and asked to move myself from the stretcher to the hospital bed. I vividly remember the pain that seemed to infiltrate every single cell of my body with agony. I remember the state of hopelessness that filled hospital air and its smell of sickness and death. Coming back home was a celebration and a breath of fresh air. I truly believe that there is only so much progress that can be accomplished at the hospital before it starts getting to you and depressing you back to illness.
When again faced with illness in the beginning of this year I spent one night tormented by half woken nightmares and anguish. I saw a thousand different ways that I could possibly die, and even though I can smile about it now and say that it was silly because there can only be one way to die and therefore I would never have to suffer through the remaining nine hundred ninety nine, it was a very gloomy dark night. I couldn't imagine not only living through another surgery and hospital stay, but being drugged, cut and experimented on. And this is coming from me, a person who had a natural childbirth and considered it to be one of the most beautiful inspiring experiences of my life. There is nothing natural or magical about being sick and operated on. There is no fervently anticipated reward for suffering through pain. There is, however, a sense of deep disappointment and regret that usually accompanies a serious illness. So, once I found out that I can do some surprisingly simple things to prevent a great deal of possible future suffering, I made major shifts in my diet and lifestyle practically overnight. I am one of those people who don't need to be warned twice and therefore I am not going to wait until another health crisis to make the move. People are surprised. They keep asking me what I use for protein, whether I missed meat and comment on how extreme of a sacrifice it seems to be to live this way.
"What sacrifice?" I laugh to myself. A sacrifice is when you give up something dear to you without getting anything in return. I, on the other hand, haven't given up much beyond some acquired tastes and habits and gained a whole lot of benefits. The situation is a win-win if you ask me. I gave up pleasing my taste buds with harmful foods and in return found other pleasant tastes, clarity of mind, spikes in creativity, inner peace, more energy and stamina, and stronger health. Did I miss meat? - No!! Where do I get my protein? - Everywhere!! It's in nuts, seeds, legumes and grains. It's even in fruits and vegetables. Is it complete protein that contains all the essential amino acids? - It doesn't have to be because protein has to be broken down into smaller units which are then either used or stored in the amino acid "storage bank". This storage bank is there to be drawn from when proteins that are needed by the body are reassembled to their usable form. Moreover, as pointed out by Doris Lin in her article on animal rights, sacrifice, by definition, is surrender or destruction of something prized or desirable for the sake of something considered as having a higher or more pressing claim. She writes, "The implication is that the prized or desirable thing being surrendered belongs to the person making the sacrifice. It can't be a sacrifice to surrender someone else's prized or desirable possession." She makes an excellent point! She says that veganism is not about giving up, it is about not taking.
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.
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!
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”.