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.
I love walking, wind against my skin, fresh air tickling my nose, road stretching ahead. The tiny drizzles of rain feel good on my face, cooling it off, calming me down. As I walk, my feet find the rhythm in a seemingly random outdoors - uphill, downhill, around the corner, people, cars, birds chirping… It all comes together and makes music, a melody for my soul as I walk. I breathe in, I breathe out, take vigorous steps – forward, always forward, and my mind travels in time and space to places I have been to and have yet to go, to things I have done and have yet to do. And I am overwhelmed with joy…
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.
This year has been keeping me up on my toes. One significant change in how I live, think and function has followed another in a roller coaster of happenings and realizations. At work, I am moving to a different office location yet again. An office co-inhibitor that has to move as well was seriously upset. She has been sitting there for a decade and all of a sudden there is an announcement that she will be relocated within a week. I haven't grown any roots to the new desk so my only regret is that the new office will be devoid of windows. Natural light is like food to me and I sure am going to feel its missing presence. But I am not the one to insistently complain, if I hate something I am free to find a different path. It is important to always remember that we do have a choice. No one is making us stay in a bad relationship or a job we dislike. We choose to stick around. Whether it is fear, guilt or lack of optimism that is stopping us from achieving that freedom, the cause is internal. And that is great news because once we realize that we are empowered to create our own future, we obtain the power to do so.
Sadly, people tend to gravitate toward complacency. Once a comfortable place is found they would resist with all their might to abandon its familiar feeling. The fact that future is uncertain is one of the reasons for this. Another reason is that people don't want to do more than necessary - being proactive is a rare trait in today's society. Many are content with life as long as they know what to expect. Unknown is feared and familiar is worshiped unjustly. It is hard to talk to people about things that aren’t widely accepted by surrounding society. It is almost impossible to get a person to think for themselves. One step toward the unexpected and a few words of caution from “helpful” friends and everyone is back where they started. The vicious cycle continues and people are powerless to initiate change on their own. However, doing nothing doesn’t bring stability, life keeps moving either forward or back, progress-wise. The change will either be initiated by us, in which case we have better control of the outcome, or be sprung on us with or without warning.
It is important to notice the positive in situations that we find ourselves in and to embrace the change - after all, life is constantly moving. Buddhism teaches that change is life's inevitable reality. It is a catalyst for opportunities that present us with chances to evolve as human beings. Physical exercise develops the muscle, learning exercises the brain and life challenges forge a strong unbreakable spirit. It isn't always easy and sometimes we can't see why we have to encounter certain problems until after a solution is found. There are lessons to be learned from every person and situation. A great deal of lessons are loud and clear – don’t give up on yourself, you are stronger than you think.
It is impossible to not feel more peaceful after a sincere yoga practice, after all its very principles are built on integrating all the aspects of life and its focus is on bringing our true, wise, more compassionate sense of selves out and into the world. Sadly, there are a lot of places now that forget the yogic roots and associate the practice solely with physical appearance. My yoga body is a great benefit, but it is only a tip of the iceberg, so I believe that people whose sole desire is to acquire a yoga body of their own are missing out on the rest of the benefits that it provides. Of course, some of the deeper benefits of yoga will still be felt even if they are not what the person strives for. Many report a sense of calm after a workout because yoga is a natural stress relief tool.
When I started to practice yoga eleven years ago, I wanted to condition my body and to improve my balance and flexibility. Stress relief was not something that I have expected, but I noticed that even on the most stressful of days I felt anxiety relief practically few minutes into a workout. It worked faster than running! With time I came to expect that serenity from yoga without knowing much about its roots. I have continuously done yoga, mixing it with the other workout routines, instinctively seeking it on days when I needed to find my inner center. In the beginning of this year I wasn’t feeling that well. Going for a run was the last thing on my mind, some days I struggled to get off the couch after a minor activity around the house. I felt drowsy from the lack of energy and gentle beginner yoga seemed all I could manage at a time.
After February and my switch to raw food vegetarian and then vegan lifestyle, I regained all my energy and then some. However, most of the days, I choose yoga over all other possible forms of exercise. I don’t need to work hard to burn fat anymore as my body naturally maintains its ultimate weight. I work out more days a week than I previously had because I have more energy to do so, but yoga doesn’t feel like a tedious task. It has become a part of my daily routine and an integral part of my life. A reach for a yoga mat first thing in the morning is like taking a deep breath and doing sun salutations is my saying hello to the world. I have awoken from sleep. I am here with the start of a new day. I am devoted to creating peace on my yoga mat and taking it everywhere I go.
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.