My friends, do not lose heart. We were made for these times. I have heard from so many recently who are deeply and properly bewildered. They are concerned about the state of affairs in our world now. Ours is a time of almost daily astonishment and often righteous rage over the latest degradations of what matters most to civilized, visionary people.
You are right in your assessments. The lustre and hubris some have aspired to while endorsing acts so heinous against children, elders, everyday people, the poor, the unguarded, the helpless, is breathtaking. Yet, I urge you, ask you, gentle you, to please not spend your spirit dry by bewailing these difficult times. Especially do not lose hope. Most particularly because, the fact is that we were made for these times. Yes. For years, we have been learning, practicing, been in training for and just waiting to meet on this exact plain of engagement.
I grew up on the Great Lakes and recognize a seaworthy vessel when I see one. Regarding awakened souls, there have never been more able vessels in the waters than there are right now across the world. And they are fully provisioned and able to signal one another as never before in the history of humankind.
Look out over the prow; there are millions of boats of righteous souls on the waters with you. Even though your veneers may shiver from every wave in this stormy roil, I assure you that the long timbers composing your prow and rudder come from a greater forest. That long-grained lumber is known to withstand storms, to hold together, to hold its own, and to advance, regardless.
In any dark time, there is a tendency to veer toward fainting over how much is wrong or unmended in the world. Do not focus on that. There is a tendency, too, to fall into being weakened by dwelling on what is outside your reach, by what cannot yet be. Do not focus there. That is spending the wind without raising the sails.
We are needed, that is all we can know. And though we meet resistance, we more so will meet great souls who will hail us, love us and guide us, and we will know them when they appear. Didn’t you say you were a believer? Didn’t you say you pledged to listen to a voice greater? Didn’t you ask for grace? Don’t you remember that to be in grace means to submit to the voice greater?
Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.
What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take everyone on Earth to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.
One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these – to be fierce and to show mercy toward others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity.
Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.
There will always be times when you feel discouraged. I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it. I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate.
The reason is this: In my uttermost bones I know something, as do you. It is that there can be no despair when you remember why you came to Earth, who you serve, and who sent you here. The good words we say and the good deeds we do are not ours. They are the words and deeds of the One who brought us here. In that spirit, I hope you will write this on your wall: When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.
American poet, post-trauma specialist and Jungian psychoanalyst, author of Women Who Run With the Wolves.
WHAT IS A PERSON? (THE WORLD IN WHICH THE KESTREL MOVES)
sarva-bhūtastham ātmānam / sarva-bhūtāni cātmani
īkshate yogayuktātmā / sarvatra samadarśanah
Through the practice of yoga, the yogini and yogi sees the Divine Self in all beings and at all times.
This sloka from The Bhagavad Gita asks us to reflect on the divinity, the holy nature, of all beings, which is omnipresent. The idea of “all beings” might be a little intangible— and inaccessible for many of us. It’s an overwhelming concept! How can we wrap our heads around it? One way is to start thinking of the beings we know and love, the ones we are close to—our friends, family, and companion animals. We might then extend our circle of divinity to our communities and beyond.
The Bhagavad Gita tells us that divine beings exist all around us in the form of fairies and elemental beings. We might also ask, Is a tree included? Or the ocean? And if we assume that people are, what makes a person a person? Steve Wise, a New York lawyer, has asked questions about personhood and concluded that sentiency plays a critical role in what makes a person a person. He founded a movement called the Nonhuman Rights Project, thanks to which he and a team of legal experts are campaigning to have chimpanzees (with plans to expand to other animals) legally declared persons with certain fundamental rights. The crux of their argument is that chimpanzees have the ability to self-reflect and to perceive and understand past, present, and future, and as such it is a violation of their constitutional right to freedom for them to be imprisoned in cages under human control. In other words, chimpanzees are people too and should be afforded the same basic rights that human people enjoy.
Sharon Gannon pioneered nonhuman rights when she titled one of her books Cats and Dogs are People Too! In this book Sharon deeply considers the often-subconscious attitudes we have toward our companion animals, which deems them less important than human family members or somehow inferior.
Corporate law and culture has a very different perspective on the concept of personhood. Under corporate law in most liberal democracies a corporation such as Coca-Cola or McDonalds enjoys the rights of personhood. So, in our topsy-turvy world, corporations (which exist by definition as having the primary motive of making money) have more rights than chimpanzees, elephants, or dolphins.
The Whanganui River, in New Zealand, is sacred to the indigenous people and has been afforded the right of personhood by the government; it therefore enjoys protection from pollution and development. In India, the holy book of the Sikh faith, Guru Granth Sahib, has been granted personhood by the government and is protected as such.
When we broaden our perspective of what a “person” is, our circle of compassion expands. This sloka from The Bhagavad Gita invites us to do just that, to remember that an ant is a person just as much as a bird or a human being. Furthermore, it gives us information on how we might remember this: through the practices of Yoga. The techniques of Yoga will help us to see the divinity in all “people.”
Philosopher Mary Midgley has dedicated her life’s work to the study of human and animal relationships. Mary is a retired university professor now (she’s 97 years old!), but has written extensively about animal rights and specifically about the issue of personhood. Mary suggests that we will extend our ability to be compassionate toward all beings if we respect and honor the differences in our own abilities and those of others. As Mary has written: “The world in which the kestrel moves, the world that it sees, is, and always will be, entirely beyond us. That there are such worlds all around us is an essential feature of our world.”
As yogis we are fortunate to have a direct method for accessing this world of the kestrel. Through the practice of asana we become the eagle, the snake, and the cow. We become the tree and the mountain. And in doing so we embody the people that those holy beings are and resonate more deeply with them. We extend our own experiences of being and might begin to see the Divine Self in all beings. In this way asana is a tool for enlightenment—the realization that we are all One.
As Sharon Gannon has said: “We are all in this together. We are all this together.”
Early life memories, Yoga and Vegetarianism
As children, my sister Jeanette and I would regularly entertain our friends wrapping our legs behind ours ears, though at the time, the word “yoga” was completely unknown to me. We very much liked to mimic Michael Jackson’s mesmerizing moves as well (remember the break-dance?). It was only when, in 2000, I was pregnant that I attended a yoga class for mums-to-be. I found the class boring, New Age kind of a thing, and never went back to that center. A few years later, I attended a more vigorous yoga class. It was a revelation, I felt like I was six years old again; not as flexible as I had been then, but still as blissfully happy. The practice made me high, I was in love! A few months into the class, I noticed that my chronic lower back pain had disappeared .
I am an avid reader, so whenever I come across something that triggers my passion to learn more about it, I raid libraries and bookstores. Amazon says that the book “Yoga and Vegetarianism” by Sharon Gannon was first delivered the first week of September 2009 (31 August – 9 September).
As a child, I had never taken any pleasure in eating animals and drinking milk. A story runs in my family about how my sister and I refused to eat fish saying that that whole grilled fish was “dead and staring at us”. I cannot myself remember ever saying that, but I do recall how I always loved observing ants and being fearful that I might kill them inadvertently while walking. And so, it is perhaps not all that surprising that reading “Yoga and Vegetarianism” turned me vegan overnight.
Both my paternal grandparents were lifelong vegetarian centenarians. My grandmother – who we affectionately called Jjajja (‘grandma’ in Luganda, one of Uganda’s main languages) – was the smartest and most generous woman I’ve ever known. She used to claim she could identify meat-eaters from a distance. Jjajja despised fat people and above all lazy people. And she adored her grandchildren, who she found absolutely perfect, even – or especially – the picky eater little me.
I guess it is because of her and our special relationship that my not eating meat as a child was never a problem in our family. But, from their perspective, the most difficult to accept was my disgust with and refusal to drink milk. Worse, still, my sense of smell was very strong and my gag reflex was overwhelming at times; I could never stand the smell of fresh cooking milk (done as a way of pasteurizing it) invading the whole house whenever fresh milk arrived straight from the farm. My sister could blackmail me into doing almost anything she wanted by threatening to dip her buttered toast into her morning tea. My mother too devised all manner of diplomatic excuses beforehand for my anticipated refusal to drink the milk I was offered wherever we went (almost everywhere), while at home she did her best to keep butter out of my food.
All Rwandans, particularly the Tutsi pastoralists, consider cows to be sacred and their milk the most perfect nourishment on earth, especially for kids. But the culture around cows goes well beyond their practical benefit. People are given cows’ names; telling a woman that she has a calf’s eyes is the highest form of complimenting her on how beautiful her eyes are. Similarly, the shades of human skin colour are often described in analogy with cows’ skin-colours, and traditional dances mimic cows’ gait, with women’s arms raised to look like and to move gracefully – like cows’ horns, as feet stamp rhythmically to drums and song. Traditionally, a cow has always been regarded as the most generous of gifts, offered only on special occasions, or as the highest mark of gratitude and friendship. Thus, in this cultural context, not liking milk let alone rejecting it outright, and worse, openly saying so, was considered a severe anomaly.
Nevertheless, over the years, as a teenager and a young adult, I ended up eating certain sorts of cheese (those without the buttery smell), chicken and fish. But “my side stories” about the private lives of ants and the dead people on my plate were there; ready to resurface at any moment. Even when I had given up on chicken, I was an on-and-off unhappy vegetarian. Reading “Yoga and Vegetarianism” was such a relief and a validation from the first words of the book. Sharon Gannon dedicated her book to:
«To those who want to be free
To those who do not want to be hurt by others
To those who do not want to be lied to, who want to be listened to
To those who do not want to live in poverty
To those who are sick but want to get well
To those who want to know the purpose of their lives.»
The clarity of Sharon Gannon’s message literally brought me back together and opened me to greater compassion for all beings (but first brought me greater awareness of my own prior ignorance).
An unnatural order
According to the psychologist Melanie Joy “In one week, more farmed animals are killed than the total number of people killed in all wars throughout history.” But how did it all begin? Why does this total insanity continue? Why does it not make the world’s headlines?
I did ask myself these very same questions in 1994, when my people were being slaughtered in their hundreds of thousands in broad daylight in Rwanda; even as the overwhelming rest of the world went on with its business in total indifference. I concluded then, that human beings are simply the most violent animals on the planet, and that compassion is, perhaps, one of the rarest qualities of our species.
Many researchers agree that the advent of agriculture and the domestication of animals was a terrible moment in history. This is what Jeffrey Masson writes about it: “The domestication of plants was accompanied by the domestication of animals. They happened more or less simultaneously. Except for dogs, who were domesticated much earlier, the earliest animals to be domesticated were sheep, goats, pigs, and cows (from around 9000 B.C.E.). Obviously, the original point of animal domestication had to do with food. And of course, to eat animals, humans had to exclude the recognition that they had feelings and could suffer in much the same way we do.” He continues: “People in early indigenous cultures (Inuit, Aboriginal, Amerindian, Maori, and so on) asked forgiveness of an animal before they hunted it down and killed it. Killing may have been necessary, but it was not casual.”
It is worth noting that the terms, “stock market” and “capital” all derive from this herding culture where wealth was in livestock. The Latin root word for capital is capita, which means the head of a cow, goat, or sheep (the first animals to be domesticated). The exploitation of animals seems to have served as a template for capitalism as we know it today. Tracing slavery back to its beginnings, David Brion Davis (one of the world’s most prominent slavery historian) links it to the domestication of wild animals
So where do we start?
Whether we agree with Masson and Davis or not, we live in a time of global crisis.
In 2006, a UN report identified livestock as the leading human contributing cause of climate change. Studies and reports abound on the imperative to cut down animal products in order to mitigate climate change. As a species, we are collectively slowly facing the truth about animal industries – a topic that is generally hidden from our view.
The website http://www.killedsofar.com counts how many animals worldwide are killed for food. By the time I put the final point to this article, it counts 35 billions so far this year and 629 billions if we include marine life.
Many things have informed my views about food, animals and humans. I became vegan for ethical reasons and reflecting on my own relationship to other beings (not just other human beings) is a work in progress.
Eating a plant-based diet is the easiest, cheapest, and smartest thing that we, human beings, can do for our health, the planet, and the other animals.
Everyone, I believe, is trying to do his or her best. Among the many hats I wear, I am a yoga teacher as well as the mother of a thriving 14-year-old who has been a vegetarian since his birth. In the first capacity, my role is to provide education so that people will be more informed and make their own choices from a basis of knowledge rather than ignorance.
Over the years, I have seen a growing number of people becoming more interested in knowing exactly what was in their food; how everything in it was produced, and the impact of such eating choices on our living environment. My husband comes from a family of hunters, and for him, giving up on red meat and dairy products was a personal milestone. He has watched and recorded dozens of documentaries on animal rights and our vital environment. Thanks to his deep understanding of the stakes, our home is a vegan household.
With my son, we pride ourselves on making the most delicious vegan chocolate cake and pancakes.
For my husband, it was important to find tasty meat substitutes. And all I can tell you is that the spicy tempeh has never failed as a crowd-pleaser. Did I mention my mom was an incredible cook and a true foodie? Any cooking skills I have are from years of assisting her and being spoiled by my auntie who always sent me cookbooks for my birthday.
Learning how to veganize your favorite dish and/or to find a good substitute to dairy products if you’re hooked on them is a game changer.
Genuine knowledge originates in direct experience. If you are already considering becoming vegetarian or vegan, you only need to get started*. Don’t delay action, don’t overthink it. Some people prefer to set up meat-free days or to take a vegan pledge for a week or a month (there are many online support groups). Make sure you set doable goals and even better idea, get a friend to do it with you. The more, the merrier!
I can’t wait to hear from you.
Peace, love and veggies,
Jeanine (I insta food pics too )
*A short list of resources
Must Watch Documentaries on Youtube
Environmental documentary: Cowspiracy – http://www.cowspiracy.com/
- The China Study, Dr. T. Colin Campbell
- The World peace diet, Dr Will Tuttle
- The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine: http://www.pcrm.org
- One green planet: http://www.onegreenplanet.org
- Easy vegan recipes: https://lisasprojectvegan.com
 Yoga and Vegetarianism, The Diet of Enlightenment by Sharon Gannon
 This is the title of a major book by Jim Mason: An Unnatural Order, The Roots of Our Destruction of Nature
 Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World by David Brion Davis
 From the World Economic Forum: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/06/why-eating-less-meat-is-the-best-way-to-tackle-climate-change/
 Spicey tempeh recipe https://nook.barnesandnoble.com/products/9780698170117/sample?sourceEan=9780698170117
KRISHNA, BUDDHA AND WHAT IS UNIVERSAL COMPASSION?
Shri Krishnah sharanam mama
I take refuge in the all-attractive Lord who is the true identity of all being.
Sharanam means refuge. This beautiful initiation mantra from the Pushtimarg tradition in India invites us to seek refuge, particularly when we are driven by strong emotions. Anger, hate and fear close us off to love and compassion. Seeking refuge means having the capacity to step back and to use particular tools or techniques—in this case, the repetition of mantra—to protect us from reacting immediately. Instead, we engage the mind with something calming, which buys us time and gets us back in touch with our true essence: boundless love and compassion, Krishna. Resolving a situation from this place yields much more constructive results. It means responding instead of reacting. It gives us the ability to stop cycles of violence and the escalation of conflict. Even if the other party refuses to cooperate or feels threatened, taking refuge in the mantra cleanses our heart and spirit, and moves us from separateness toward oneness.
Mantra transcends the calculating intellect and awakens a feeling of love and sweetness, gradually melting away the hard walls we have built around our hearts. The vibration of the Sanskrit language has a profound, transformative effect on a cellular level. Yogi Bhajan describes how chanting mantra affects our electromagnetic field and brain patterns, the master glands and even the stability of the blood. Mantra can totally remake our psyche. Asana and meditation practices have similar effects, inducing a mental focus and an energetic shift that become stronger than habitual, conditioned, reactive behavior.
Every major spiritual tradition agrees that love and compassion are the most important qualities for sustaining and protecting life. Each tradition has a figure who embodies perfection in love and compassion. In the Hindu/yogic tradition it is Krishna, an incarnation of Vishnu, the preserver of the universe. He is often depicted as a child whose disarming qualities inspire us to love without inhibition. In Buddhism it is the supreme bodhisattva, Avalokiteshvara, who made a great vow to assist sentient beings in times of difficulty, and to postpone his own Buddhahood until he has helped every one of them achieve nirvana. His mantra is Om mani padme hum, meaning that, in the same way that the lotus flower grows out of the mud, compassion is often deeply understood through great suffering and huge spiritual challenges. In Christianity the iconic figure is Jesus, whose story holds many parallels to Krishna’s. Krishna was born in a prison, Jesus in a stable, and both had to spend much of their lives in exile. Through the practice of sincerely contemplating these divine, enlightened beings, we do our very best to awaken their luminosity inside us, and to tailor our lives according to their examples.
Sister Chan Khong, a Buddhist nun ordained by Thich Nhat Hanh, endured unimaginable suffering during the war in Vietnam and has become one of the most outstanding living embodiments of compassion in our times. Although she had a degree in biology, her main mission was always to feed the hungry and the poor. What makes her service even more powerful is that she has had to serve anonymously, under a false identity, so as not to put the recipients of her aid in danger. Many times she risked her own life, dodging bullets and bombs while riding her bike through the streets of Saigon. One day, after a bombing, the streets were littered with dead bodies, and the government did not clean them up. The community of monks, nuns and peace workers took it upon themselves to remove the bodies and give them a proper burial. They could accomplish this extremely difficult task only by seeking refuge in the breath and in mantra. When boat people started drifting ashore in neighboring Southeast Asian countries, those governments ordered them pushed back out to sea, where they would eventually drown. For Chan Khong the first priority was saving lives, and in order to circumvent senseless rules and inhumane practices, disguises had to be used, laws had to be challenged in nonviolent ways and violations of human rights had to be reported to the international press. She was exiled from Vietnam, separated from family and friends and expelled from countries that did not want their cruelty exposed to the world. Sometimes she would be overwhelmed by strong emotions and start sobbing uncontrollably, until she remembered to take refuge in her breath. She and her sangha practiced walking meditation to learn the art of calming their feelings before taking action. From this practice came the ability to understand and have compassion for the people committing atrocities.
Compassion is a big word that is often trivialized. Most of us have been conditioned to be selective about our compassion. We may be able to express some degree of compassion to our family and friends but are unconcerned about those who live on the other side of the world, don’t look like us, or speak a different language. Chan Khong describes returning to Paris after being expelled from Singapore and being appalled to see people eating, drinking, laughing and enjoying life in cafes. Did they not know that their fellow human beings were drowning at sea? Through the practices of Yoga we learn that compassion does not discriminate. As PeTA founder Ingrid Newkirk says, “Some people seem to think that our compassion is a limited commodity, like a cake with only a few slices. » –
Photography: Sarah Keough; from the wonderful book ©Yoga at Home by Linda Sparrowe
What is the reason we’re here?
I hope the hell it’s not to be the same, not just to be the same (…)
My worst dilemma in life is: Why after all this time, can’t human beings stop killing each other?
I mean, you and me, we would sit down and we would agree.
We could even take a vow not kill each other, between us, since we know each other and yet…
It seems so simple but it’s just not a simple thing (…)
Human beings identify so much with their bodies, and their chachkas and their property; and they would defend them to the death.
And therein lies the problem.
– David Life (August 10th, 2014)
Happy Continuation Day beloved Davidji
You make this world a better place to live in.
With love and gratitude beyond words,
Here is a glimpse of what we have been doing in Rwanda.
With love and deep gratitude to all of you supporting the work of Azahar Foundation