I’ve been thinking a lot about patience and compassion this week, and experiencing a fresh wave of appreciation for my vegan cousins. When I finally ‘woke up’ at the beginning of 2014 and realised what I had been taking part in as a non-vegan, I was horrified and devastated. It was a trauma that sits right up there alongside some of the most difficult experiences in my life, and I’ve certainly had my share.
Some might think it’s the dietary or lifestyle limitations that make veganism difficult. It isn’t. Those bits are easy. Or at least, they have been for me. It’s the emotional aspects that are hard to cope with at times. The strange experience of first being on one side of the fence, and then being on the other, can be quite disorientating. Being so sure I was ‘right’, feeling sorry for my misguided vegan cousins…. and then suddenly becoming part of their world and seeing myself through their eyes.
One of my first responses was a horrified “Oh my God, why didn’t you tell me?!”. I actually couldn’t say this out loud to my vegan cousins though, because they had tried. I just couldn’t hear them. I felt deeply sad that I had spent so many years of my life being deaf, blind and dumb to the reality millions of animals were facing on a daily basis. The information had been all around me but some strange wall in my mind kept it out. I simply didn’t want to see. I didn’t want to know. And no amount of gentle reality-checking from my vegan cousins was going to make any difference to that.
Or so it seemed. In those first shocking weeks of becoming vegan, I cried a river of tears and had to work hard to forgive myself for what I had so naively chosen to be a part of. It was sickening. I was angry with my cousins for not having tried harder to get through to me, and yet amazed at how saintly and patient they had been. Me – the healer, the empath, the nature lover, the environmentalist, the supposedly spiritual person. What a joke. How they managed to resist shaking me out of frustration, I have no idea.
And yet, for all my regrets about not having ‘awoken’ sooner, I seriously doubt it could have happened any other way. The truth is such a shock. No wonder we instinctively protect ourselves from it by avoiding vegans and rolling our eyes in disgust at their ridiculous notions, their holy-than-thou attitude, their bleeding-heart carry on, their extremism… oh, I could go on with the labels. Do you have any idea how uncomfortable it can feel to suddenly become one of ‘them’? I felt like an ugly, hated squirming ‘thing’ that should hide herself away and never be seen, even though another part of me wanted to scream at the world for suddenly revealing its violent madness. It was like waking from a happy dream to find yourself transported back in time to a racist society that celebrates slavery, and realising you were the odd one out. The Matrix* eat your heart out.
I think my awakening had to happen gradually, because otherwise I would have cracked up. The tearing down of old paradigms is probably better done slowly and gently, a tentative prod here and there, from time to time. I do this with clients as a healer; test their boundaries and press up against them ever so slightly… not enough to get a lash back and a digging in of heels…. just enough to get them thinking outside of the square, even if it’s just for a few seconds. Otherwise they stay stuck.
The conversations my cousins had with me over the years were, in reality, few and far between, but when they did happen, they were profound and deeply uncomfortable for me. It’s pretty horrible when you realise your arguments don’t stack up and they don’t align with your deeper values. But I managed to find silly excuses to plaster over this awareness. It was only after I went vegan myself that I found out just how much energy I had been wasting on pretending everything was fine when it wasn’t. It was a relief to finally feel a click deep inside me as my outer actions lined up with my deeper values.
I almost felt my aura widen… (if you don’t ‘get’ aura’s, just think of this as my sense of self). I felt more open, light, expansive. I could breathe more freely. I felt peaceful.
Pretty weird when you feel like that, and yet you keep crying all the time, interspersed with the spontaneous cracking of dumb jokes and then roaring with laughter because you are the only one who gets it. Yeah. Slightly hysterical, but that’s all in a days work when you are on the spiritual journey. Gotta crack yourself up every now and then (both with laughter, tears and hints of reality/insanity), to make sure you don’t get stagnant and rot in a rut. Haha! I make it sound like I do these things to myself on purpose.
My cousin is silly, I used to think. She makes life hard for herself unnecessarily and the world around her makes her sad. Much safer to not be vegan. My sanity is more important. I was worried about her and didn’t know how to help. She is such an upbeat, beautiful person, always smiling…. but we all have bad days and sometimes, the world can get you down. I had a wee cry myself last night about the cows. And the horses. Bless them. Yeah…. I think I prefer risking insanity because the pure bliss of being in contact with my own heart feels so good! You gotta take the bad with the good: Package deal.
So. What was I afraid of losing? My sanity. My credibility. My respectableness. My reasonableness. My reputation. My ability to always accept others as they are. My easy-going live and let live values. Losing leather and honey and products tested on animals were the least of my worries. I was more worried about people not liking me anymore. Must be a whole lot harder when you have to face giving up eggs and cheese and meat. I reckon people feel protective of these foods in their life, just the same way I felt about my sanity (and all those other cool things, like popularity). It was easier for me because I had already let go of those foods. Letting go of food is easy. Letting go of your ego is another thing entirely. I am in complete awe of people who transition almost instantly from a ‘normal’ life into veganism. Took me years! Plus I had the added benefit of being an on-again, off-again vegetarian and nature-lover my entire life, and of being a natural empath.
When I look at how far the average person would have to jump to get from where they are to where I am in an instant (when it took me 40 years), I just shake my head. It’s too hard. Won’t happen. They’d probably spontaneously combust. And then we’d have more blood on our hands! (That’s one of those stupid jokes I was telling you about)
I think what I used to see in my cousins as extremism, obsession and very annoying behaviour, is now something I can reframe as passionate, meaningful and kind. I love them for the kindness they showed me. I shudder now when I think of all the silly arguments I made and how predictable and boring these are when you’ve heard them a million times from different people simply because that’s the way everyone thinks! But never once did I feel the slightest hint of condescension coming from them. Instead, they calmly told me stories and used analogies and arguments that were completely alien to me and yet uncomfortably logical. Damned vegans. They are a delightful menace to society!
So here is a big, giant up-to-the-moon and around-the-stars hug of appreciation for two beautiful people who took the time to sit with me and listen with gentle kindness and patience. Thank you for waiting. I hope my arrival makes up for my tardy slowness! I’m young yet, on wobbly feet and probably still very clumsy, but hopefully I will grow into my new skin with grace and aplomb. With my beautiful cousin reminding me of the lessons my grandmother taught me about kindness and compassion, anything is possible.
This popular movie beautifully conveys what it can feel like to become vegan. Here are some articles exploring this idea further: