Do we need it? Or do we want it?

Meat comes from living things that suffer and feel pain.

If we eat animals, can we really say we care about them?

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The secret to truly changing yourself

When I was in middle school, I noticed that I was smaller than most of the other kids. And I hated that. I hated my skinny arms and legs. So I started lifting weights. And eating… and taking supplements. I got bigger, but I always found fault. Even throughout college, I compared myself to other guys.

For years, I forced myself into this lifestyle until it became a habit… until one year. I stopped working out. I had met someone, the first person who showed care for me. We moved in together. I soon realized that I had never been training for me. Now, years later, I exercise for myself, for the good feelings I get. And I focus on getting fit, not big.

Changing something in your life means taking control. And where does that control come from? Your personality, values…your attitude, right?

So the first step in changing our actions is finding out what values are driving them. Is it because we’re unhappy with ourselves? Because no matter how much you “improve”, you will never become happy with yourself if you’re not already content with life.

Once you gain this self-awareness, then whatever changes you want to make aren’t hard, because…well…because you want them. When my goal changed from getting validation to being fit, it was almost unconscious. I didn’t obsess over becoming healthy. I didn’t hold myself to a strict program. I didn’t read books about why it was better to be more fit. I didn’t do those things because I didn’t need to do those things.

A measure of the value of a goal is how much you want to do the grunt work. But if the drive to change comes from inside you, you will embrace the grind and it will cease to be one. Facing the challenge of something new will become exciting, not paralyzing. The sacrifice won’t feel like a sacrifice.

But it won’t really work if you’re doing it because you think you must or you have no choice. You can’t do it if fear is driving you, or if you’re forced to.

People do change. We evolve. Just don’t force it. Evolution is natural. Other people and your environment can supplement a change in your values, but the truest values, the ones that drive us to do the right thing, always come from the inside.

So what’s the secret to really changing yourself?

Let go of what you think you need.

Free yourself. Because no one else will.

We were meant to evolve. And we have the self-awareness and freewill to do exactly that.

The joy of finding over keeping

I was cleaning my bathroom the other day. It was long overdue a wipe-down. I noticed a seashell lost in the midst of other things. It had come from a trip I took to the Siesta Keys. After I returned home, my experience in the Keys made me realize a lesson that everyone learns, but some of us forget. I am good at forgetting. So I sit and write about things.

While I was down there, I went running along the beach one morning and I came across a whole unbroken shell. I was excited. Most of the shells covering the beach were broken. I palmed the shell and kept running, enjoying the surf crash reassuringly but keeping an eye out on the sand. And then I saw another whole shell! It had a sheen that the other didn’t have. I palmed this one in my other hand. By the end of the trip, I had collected several perfect shells. I packed them carefully and took them home.

After a time, I realized the shells sitting there meant little to me. It was discovering them that made me happy. We often get lost in the collecting. Then, when we stop and think about it, we realize we’re going the wrong way. We’ve made a ritual of this action, and forgotten why we’re doing it. All we wanted was a happy experience, not a subservient one to collecting shells. Or money. Or following a guru.

Our actions come from who we are. Our creative process makes life worth living. Not our consumption or holding onto our creations in fear of losing them.

I threw all the shells away, except for one.

It’s the one I kept to remind me to focus on the discovery and not worry about the collecting.

“Yea, but we do.”

I was in the gym the other day and there were weights all over the place, but they weren’t on any racks. Some dumbells were strewn on the floor and the barbells were left on the bars. I arranged the weights that I needed, racking some to make room for the weight I wanted, and I did my exercises. When I was done, I started to put the weights back, but I hesitated, thinking, “Why should I? No one else did.” Then I thought of Erik.

Erik is one of my most interesting friends. He is a writer, which might explain why he was so interesting. He likes Goth clubs, but he always seemed to be an outsider, like he was researching a book he was writing. He dresses their way, he likes the same music, and he is highly tolerant of their unique lifestyle. But Erik isn’t angry at anyone. In fact, he likes everyone. His smile literally beams as shiny as his shaved head and black combat boots. I like Erik because he simply does his thing, with adventurous heart and a thinking mind. I visited him soon after he had moved to Las Vegas and we found ourselves in his gym.

We did bench press and the weights were not racked. We arranged the weight for ourselves and did our sets, taking turns until I finished the last set. Erik started putting the weights away, and I said, “Erik, let’s leave them. Other people didn’t put their weights away.” Erik didn’t look up as he continued pulling off barbells, “Yea, but we do.”

I thought about this a few days ago, although I’d shrugged it off at the time and helped him begrudgingly. I thought about how easy it is to pass up doing the right thing. Our actions are lost in anonymity… all of us shop at the big superstores which use greeters now as they try to replicate the feeling of the mom and pop shops that they (and us) are putting out of business. We buy things made in the China because it would require serious effort to go without that item or find an alternative to it that was made here. It’s easy to keep our money and retirement accounts with the Wall St banks after they defrauded people, because everyone else is. What difference does it make when there are so many people out there doing the same thing?

The difference is because it’s wrong.

So I returned my weights to the rack. No biggie, I know. And I’m only one person. But I’m part of a larger environment, and if I don’t think about that, and more importantly, if I don’t do something about it, then I am part of the problem. Other people may not do anything, but Erik’s words are still strong in my head:

“Yea, but we do.”

The perfect backyard and the perfect person.

I was out walking with Jesse the other day. The sun was setting and the western skies were aglow with shimmering orange and yellow and red. We passed a home with a back yard that was carefully landscaped with evergreen trees. They were clustered within neat rings of stone. A decorative stone bench sat at either end of the yard. There was small, neatly trimmed shrubbery flanking the area.

“That yard looks like a park,” I said.

I thought about the care of the owners to ensure that the branches were trimmed. The stones and benches clear of weeds. The grass surrounding them cut. I said, “I wonder what the yard is going to look like in a hundred years. Will the yard even be there? Will it be destroyed? Will the family have moved on, and will there be another family owning the place?”

The transience of life

I think about how much the yard was appreciated. I think of our constant struggle to keep order. Maintaining our hygiene, cleaning ourselves, walking about, working, exercising, cleaning again. Picking out the soap and shampoo that we like, maybe it’s the cheapest, or the one that has best scent, or the one used in all the salons, or the one that’s not tested on animals.

Finding the restaurant with the tastiest dishes, the ones we must have, and we’ll pay for it, because nothing else is good enough. Maybe getting fast food, because we just want to eat something, anything. Or going to places that get their ingredients locally. Or having a garden, or not eating animals because we do care, we care a lot about our actions…

Does it matter?

Eating, brushing our teeth, eating again, brushing again, stopping the rot, keeping the bacteria at bay. Our diligence! Cutting the grass, cursing the rain, cutting the grass again, trimming bushes.

Again and again and again.

Going shopping to replace worn clothes, or just because it feels good. Trying to make more money, searching for that job that will make us comfortable, that income that’s just out of our reach, if only we could get to it.

Until we don’t do it anymore

Until one day, we stand at the gates to be judged. The gates of truth. Our conscience. And we ask ourselves if we spent our time wisely. Did we make an effort to do the right thing, or did we follow the crowd? Did we work too much, too little? Did we care about our contribution, about the consequences of our actions? Did we care about people, about the future, or did we throw up our hands in helplessness? Did we worry too much, or did we enjoy our life?

I looked at the yard and thought all this, because this is what I do. I thought about the big clock. Tick-tock. And then I stopped thinking of that. And I started appreciating everything a little bit more.

The perfect backyard and the perfect person? Neither is possible. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try for them.

Dr. King fought against the majority and today we have the same fight

In Washington DC yesterday there was a commemoration of a monument to honor Martin Luther King Jr. A number of speakers talked about Dr. King…about his words and how they inspired so many, but also spoke of his actions. And the mention of action made me hopeful. Dr. King once said: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering.” And so, today, we too, must sacrifice to take control of our lives once again. We must fight to utilize the consumer power of the majority against the concentration of power in the corporation.

Dr. King fought against the apathy of the white majority and today we also fight against the apathy of a majority

Dr King inspired others to face the powerful and established practice of discrimination. The discrimination which Dr King fought against was based on race, but it didn’t affect the mostly white US population.  Society went about its business, just like today, but today our apathy led us to a recession that almost resulted in the total economic collapse of our country.

A corporate system without consumer oversight is a system that will promote inequality

Today we have a cultural acceptance of our powerful financial system, which has slowly grown and allows us to spend less and have more money in our bank accounts.  The benefits of this system are for everyone, from the corporation to the consumer.  Still, the situation threatens the very structure of our free society.

Power follows money, and today we see a movement of power from elected officials to a corporate minority.  This concentration of power has grown so large that when the existence of a few banking and automobile corporations was threatened, the whole country was affected: Regardless if you were rich or poor, we lost businesses, jobs, and retirement savings.

We can reclaim power over the institutions if we follow Dr. King’s advice: Sacrifice

A sacrifice of personal financial growth. As Dr King sacrificed, we too must sacrifice our way of life to correct the injustices of today: We must turn away the money that trickles down from Wall Street and the corporations. We must control our own finances and earnings to take back the power we are giving the Wall Street bankers and the corporations. We must move our money to local banks and credit unions. Institutions should be dependent on us. Not us on them.

Race cannot be used to determine who is given opportunity, and neither can capital

Today, as in the past, we have a grave danger that cannot be ignored.  We cannot continue to be apathetic about the division of the country into rich and poor, just as the population before the 1960s was apathetic about the division of the country by race.  We cannot continue to watch our capital accumulate in the hands of the minority. The future of our society depends on our capacity to sacrifice and to recognize the power we have as consumers. Perhaps Dr King’s quote should be amended slightly:

We shall match OUR capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering.

Food is more than fuel

On my way home last week I stopped at Chipotle, a restaurant famous for its burritos. After I got my food, I made my way home, and I passed a Firehouse Subs restaurant, a McDonald’s, a Taco Bell, and a Burger King. The drive-thrus were lined with cars with people waiting for their own quick meals. At home, I ate the burrito, my hunger driving me past savoring the taste to get the food in my stomach. Afterwards, I grabbed a bag of banana chips, and as I snacked, I looked at the ingredients.  The first ingredient read, “Bananas”. The last one read “Banana flavor”. As I sat there on my couch, I felt full and satisfied, and ready to tackle my chores, but I didn’t feel good. Why?

Although the food was real, I didn’t know what I’d eaten

The restaurant workers were nice enough. The cashier even talked to me beyond the usual banter, but all I did was hand over my credit card. A quick swipe and I was done. I had eaten alone, speaking to no one.  I had finished quickly, but usually I am the slowest eater in the dinner party. I chew and talk, while others chew and swallow.

I like picking parsley from my garden and chopping it on my cutting board

From my couch, I looked out my window, and saw the parsley growing in my garden. I liked hearing it crunch under my knife, and suddenly smelling its fresh and pleasant fragrance. I would mix it into the noodles that I had cooked, and the aroma of the tomato sauce and capers and parsley danced together into my nose. I would look at what I’d made, swirl a bite onto my fork, and chew it. It was a good experience. It made me happy.

I knew it would be a long time before I’d have the full and satisfied feeling of a restaurant burrito and  bananas with banana flavoring.

And that was ok by me.