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Posts Tagged ‘Buddhism’

On Smushing Bugs

Posted by tinako on March 6, 2015

16MENAGERIE-blog480I think this book excerpt from The N.Y. Times, “On Smushing Bugs,” is just beautiful.

I love his wording – a “karmic broken-window theory,” “the oubliette of the vacuum bag,” and his natural compassion tested by “the tiny black turd in my mug.”

I love the picture; this man is about to kill, but he is looking, peeking even though it is painful, and he sees.  He sees an anthropomorphic cartoon ant, but… more metaphorically, he sees himself in the ant, as the Buddha said:

All beings tremble before violence.
All love life.
All fear death.
See yourself in others.
Then whom can you hurt?  What harm can you do?

But mostly I love his humility, his questioning, his looking deeply into himself, looking for the truth no matter where it takes him, even to a cliff or dead end of choices he doesn’t want to make.

This isn’t a how-to essay, and claims only to ask questions, not answer them, so he doesn’t mention that prevention adds a choice between re-washing all your dishes every day or pulling on your executioner’s hood.

I must admit to mixed results with prevention.  But maybe we don’t need all the answers right away.  Maybe looking, within and without, is the path to figuring out how we want to be in the world.

 

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Hunter Accidentally Shot in the Face

Posted by tinako on November 24, 2014

A local hunter was accidentally shot in the face on opening day here; I guess he’s going to be OK.  Some in our AR community struggled with their feelings following this news; how does it make you feel?  After about a week of online comments, I offered the following:

With understanding that it is normal and natural to have many different reactions to this news story, but that we can choose which paths to follow, I wonder if anyone would be interested in my understanding of karma, which others here have been mentioning?  If not, click delete.  Nothing here is new, just hopefully clarity on a concept that is often muddled with several meanings, and how karma can work for us.

By my understanding: Karma was originally Hindu, and that is the idea most modern people have of karma: divine justice, something (“the universe”) or someone who keeps track and evens the score.  The Buddha, who lived in Hindu India, found this unhelpful because it didn’t allow room for change.  He understood that even good people may have to suffer for their past harmful actions, but that they would be better off because of the good they were doing now (example: Angulimala) – pertinent to any of us who ever screwed up!  Anyway, Buddhist karma can be seen in two lights: One is the ripple effect, that the kind acts or speech or even “vibe/energy” we put out, affects others and has a chance of coming back to us – we are making the world a better place, and that’s the place we live, so it’s better for us.  Even if the effect is small, we are not making things worse.  I think this is pretty evidently true.  The second way Buddhist karma can be understood is that no matter what effect our acts have “out there,” they have done something to us on the way out.  For example, loving someone who hates us is better than hating them, because we will be happier filled with love than with hate.  I have found this “instant karma” to be true as well, and the effect will probably be huge, life-changing.  So you see, Buddhist karma is more like a law of nature than a faith in justice.

Celebrating accidental violence may fill us with a much-needed sense of satisfaction that the scorekeeper is on duty, but how does it impact us under the Buddhist understanding?  What do we set into the world when we express gladness at others’ misfortunes (what kind of world are we creating), and what does this Schadenfreude (harm-joy) do to us on the way out?

None of this is to say that a person struggling with feelings of joy is a bad person, just that an understanding of the harm it does to ourselves and others may be useful in letting it go.  And we can choose to be glad that the man is not hunting right now, without being glad that it’s because he was hurt.

Namaste.

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Gandhi Institute Nonviolence Intensive

Posted by tinako on June 21, 2014

gandhiAs a peace activist, I feel so fortunate to live less than six miles from the M. K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence.  A few months ago I attended their seminar on NVC, non-violent communication.  I had read the book, but felt overwhelmed by the task of finding the wisdom to respond in different situations and overhauling my habits of speech, and so it was great that the seminar was half small-group practice session.  The main speaker also discussed race and status.  NVC, in addition to making me a better person in my community and family, can make me a more effective activist for social justice in the areas I focus, primarily, but not exclusively, animal rights.  I’ve thought a lot about the comparison between NVC and Buddhism, but I’ll hold off on commenting for right now.

So I am excited that I am able to attend the Gandhi Institute’s 2014 four-day all-day workshop, their Nonviolence Intensive.  They’ll spend time discussing the lives and teachings of Gandhi and King (whom I have been studying), NVC (I am happy to have more instruction and practice in this useful skill), “tools for inner change based on mindfulness” (I like tools, I like change, and I’m Buddhist!), and “Deep Ecology and the Work that Reconnects” (from a superficial Googling, Deep Ecology encompasses AR, though an AR friend told me he was troubled by it, so we’ll see; and as for work, as my kids are needing me less, I am in the process of deciding what to do with the rest of my life).  So this seminar seems perfect for me.

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A bucket of dead squirrels – hilarious or not?

Posted by tinako on February 17, 2013

In Holley, NY, it’s a scream.

I went with a group of about forty protesters yesterday to stand up against violence on a freezing street corner in Holley, NY.  While I support animal rights, I was really there to say no to violence of all kinds.  I wrote my sign, “Violence Hurts Everyone,” to express that when we engage in violent acts or even thoughts, we have made the world a more violent place, and have added to the violence in our own hearts.  You don’t have to care about squirrels to feel that a contest encouraging children as young as twelve to kill small animals by giving cash prizes for the number and weight of dead animals, and raffling guns, including a semi-automatic rifle, to participants, is a terrible way for a fire department to raise money.  In so many ways.

Opponents asked the fire department to reconsider in light of recent events, and even raised more money than they normally get from this event, if only they would cancel it.  But the fire department refused.  Even the United Supporters of Fire Departments refused to support this event, trying to speak to the fire chief and offering them cash to cancel it.  But the Holley Fire Department refused to even speak to them.

So off we went to do the last thing we could do, stand testament to this folly.  I would have vastly preferred to spend a Saturday afternoon in February with my family instead of on a frigid street corner being snowed on and yelled at, but when I heard about this event, I felt I could not be the person I think I am, especially with a post-Newtown and –Webster awareness of the very real and widespread effect of violence on the innocent, if I didn’t go there and say, “this is unwise.”

I was so glad we carpooled to this event.  Beyond saving gas, it helped us support each other immeasurably in what was a very difficult day.  Despite death threats and the guns present, I personally felt safe at every moment, partly because of supportive friends, but also from the 40 or so police officers there.  I learned later that a SWAT team was on standby.  A drunk guy was hauled off to the police station for harassing us, but mostly it was just loud-mouths.  …On both sides, I have to say, though all the protester’s heckling was done from within our group, while the counter-protesters would come over and shout at us at point blank.  Several of us felt that a silent vigil would have been more effective (and less headache-inducing), and I wasn’t happy with some of the comments on our side regarding the intelligence of Holley residents, but that is what happens when a diverse group comes together.

I knew a lot of people in Holley would be angry we were butting into their business, as though that street corner weren’t a part of New York and the U.S.  I knew they would belittle us as squirrel lovers and miss the point that violence is violence; their number one argument was (drum roll): “Squirrels taste good.”  It was all over their signboards and what they shouted in unison.  What a deep moral argument.  Everyone knows our taste-buds are excellent indicators of what is right.  I have to relate one of the few amusing anecdotes of the day – several of the counter-protesters held signs that said, “Ignore These Idiots,” which might have been clever, but unfortunately for them they were not standing among us.   So…

Also expected was the assumption that we were hypocrites because we eat meat.  Unfortunately for that argument, most if not all of us were vegan (at which point one heckler went on to ask if our parents ever ate meat).  But is it true that a person needs to be 100% sin-free to stand up to violence?  I’m vegan but I must admit I’m not perfect in every way – am I disqualified from speaking out against anything?  If it’s true that those who eat meat can’t denounce a killing contest, then perhaps that is another reason for going vegan.

What I didn’t expect yesterday was the carnival atmosphere, the glee.  There were about 100 counter-protesters by the time I left, I estimate, and for a while, on one corner they had music playing and a guy in a skunk costume (?) was dancing in the back of a parked truck (??).  I saw a car go past a few times waving the same dead squirrel out the window, and the counter-protesters went wild.  Several more cars followed suit, with the same result.  About 4:30, despite the Sheriff’s dept request that hunters bring the squirrels to the back of the fire department, which we couldn’t even see, smirking hunters began walking across the street and through our crowd waving bloody squirrels, or toting bodies in bloody plastic grocery bags.  One came through with them in a bucket.  The result was always the same – deafening cheers and hoots of laughter from the crowd across the street.  At one point, a father and son came through.  Keep in mind, they were supposed to go around, but the father decided that taking his son, who looked to be about twelve, through a crowd of animal rights protesters, against the advice of the Sheriff, would be a great experience.  Some of the kids across the street had been gloating and sneering, but this poor kid didn’t look into it as he followed along (and his dad was carrying the squirrels).  I felt terrible for him.  None of us said anything to him – we never did – though someone suggested to the dad’s back that bringing his son through wasn’t such a hot idea.  Just before my carpool left, I heard that the police told a hunter he had to go around, so that was probably the end of that.

But I’m left absolutely perplexed; why is a dead squirrel so funny to the people of Holley?  Why do they cheer someone who shot a three pound animal while it sat there minding his or her own business, eating a nut or something; why do they cheer as though this was a heroic act?  Hooray!  You did it!  And boy, is it funny!

I suppose they were laughing at us, at how futile our shivering had been.  I was reminded of what Ghandi said:

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

So we’re on step two I guess, as far as Holley goes.  How about you, America?  Where do you stand on fire departments raising money with killing contests?  Did we stand there for nothing?  We didn’t save any squirrels this time, but did we bring a spotlight to a sordid little bit of American “culture”?

As an afterward, I want to say two things.  First, I’m very happy to report that I was true to myself and to my values of non-violence and love and compassion.  I never hated anyone who was against us, and I was never angry.  Though I have to admit I was wishing the counter protester screaming next to us for two hours would lose her voice; don’t judge me – you weren’t there with my headache.  She did begin to go hoarse, but it didn’t stop her.  Hopefully her throat is not too sore today.

The other thing is that for at least the next few hours, about as long as it took to thaw my toes, I found I had lost the sense that people are basically kind.  All the way home in the carpool, I was convinced that other drivers were angry at us – I’m so thankful I wasn’t alone with those thoughts, but talking with like-minded people.  When we de-carpooled in a church parking lot 30 minutes away, I found myself assuming that the few people straggling after hours out of the Unitarian Church, for goodness sake, were hostile and aggressive, about to shout something mean.  I stopped for Chinese takeout on the way home and found myself assuming that they would be angry.

I hope this isn’t permanent.

Posted in Animals, AR, Social Justice | Tagged: , , , , , | 7 Comments »

New Year’s Resolution

Posted by tinako on December 31, 2012

I’m usually pretty good at sticking to things.  I don’t often make my resolutions exactly at New Year’s but I guess I make them reasonable, because whatever time of year I make them, they usually keep.  Past successes:

  1. Vegetarianism (20 years)
  2. Flossing daily (going about 8 years now I think)
  3. Running 2 miles 3x per week (5 years now)
  4. Veganism (4 years)
  5. Strength training 3x per week (3 years ago.  OK, after two years I settled on 2x per week)
  6. Getting back into Tai Chi after a year off (I stopped taking classes again this spring, but I still do it alone 1x per week)
  7. Wasting less time on the computer (1 or 2 years)

But I’m nervous about this year’s resolution, even though I know it’s important:

Meditation.  Sitting there a minimum of 10 minutes every morning when I want to do something else.

I used to do it, and the results were great.  I could feel that my brain worked differently, different thoughts tended to arise, and when I slipped out of the habit I could feel wisdom flee, and old patterns return.

I’m an introvert very comfortable with silence and stillness, I feel competent at meditating, know a variety of ways to settle in, know how to stay awake, I even have the time to do it: I’m a stay-at-home mom and artist, having deliberately chosen these paths to reduce stress.  I put on my workout clothes when I get up early to see the kids off to school.  Then I exercise, have breakfast reading the paper, and… have plenty of time to meditate before I go take a shower.  But the pull of my day and the things I want to do is too strong.  Ten minutes, can’t my day wait ten minutes?  And yet I find I’d rather do laundry and clean the kitchen than sit.

Ah, my old nemesis Patience, I will face you tomorrow.

Posted in Buddhism | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Putting Eating in its Place

Posted by tinako on June 3, 2012

I read an article my dad clipped out of The Wall Street Journal for me, “A Divine Way to Resist Temptation,”which is about how it seems to be easier for people to control what they eat when the restraint is religious-based, such as kosher rules.

We’re not Jewish, and my dad probably recognized that I would appreciate this not from a religious law basis, but from a values perspective.  It is not hard for me to resist eating animal products, because they are so dissonant with who I want to be.  A friend, standing with me in front of a non-vegan dessert display, once told me I must have a lot of willpower.  Her comment took me by surprise because willpower doesn’t enter into it.  These products represent misery and do not appeal to me at all.

This brings me to something I heard in a Buddhist talk.  Gil Fronsdale made the point that sometimes what seems like patience, isn’t.  For someone whose buttons are being pressed, say by a long ticket line, they have to actively be patient, but if their buttons have been deactivated through practice, there is no call for their patience – the wait in line is just not a problem.  And Starbucks desserts don’t press my buttons any more.

Returning to the title of this posting, when we forgo the pleasure of certain foods or accept the boredom of waiting, whether for a higher power, compassion, or just to remind ourselves of the Buddhist concept that waiting in line is a perfectly fine place to be, what we’re doing is taming our sense that we have to have what we want when we want it, being slaves to pleasure of all sorts.  (Do you understand the difference between pleasure and happiness?  This seems like a good explanation.)  One of my favorite parts of my daughter’s choice to become vegan is that she will get lots of practice saying no thanks; I believe this will make her stronger in every aspect of her life.

Veganism was the big push – it was a painful decision, but then I was highly motivated to say no to a lot of food.  Since then I’ve found that every time I decide to reduce another food in my diet, it gets a little easier, counter-intuitive if you consider that with each restriction the pool gets smaller.  But I’m just not that attached to any particular food that much any more – I love my choices and the taste of food, but none of it has hold of me.  What a feeling of liberation, and this from someone who couldn’t have candy or tortilla chips without gorging.  I find this decrease in attachment translates over into other parts of my life as well – I could just as well call this post “Putting Pleasure in its Place.”

So if your habits seem too hard to overcome, try to find a more compelling reason to let them go.

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Care and Feeding of Cravings

Posted by tinako on April 1, 2012

I had a very long discussion with a young man while I was tabling recently at a health fair.  He approached the two of us with the question, “What can I do about the cravings for sweets that I have after dinner?”  My co-staffer responded that he could try popcorn, and she went on to explain how to make it healthy but delicious.  I listened a minute, and then said, “You know, I’m going to disagree with you on that one.”  I’m not convinced this substitution method works for heavy cravings.

If you are, like me, a living human being, particularly if you are a woman, you have probably had many conversations with friends about what to eat when you want to eat something naughty.  We seem to go from Snackwells to 100-calorie-packs-of-whatever to fruit salad to toasted soy nuts to rice cakes to infinity, and what they all seem to have in common is that they utterly fail to be that brownie we wanted.  Do these things really satisfy people, really, for the long term?  If these are working for you, go for it.  You don’t need me.  And keep telling people what works.  Maybe when you want a doughnut, a banana is just as good.

But I spent too many evenings eating item after item that just wasn’t that candy bar I wanted.  And I found another way.  This method works, for me, to the degree that I do not want the offending item any more.

It’s not as simple as “try popcorn.”  There are a lot of possible parts to it, so you can customize it, and so it took a really long time to explain to that poor guy, glued to my words, and alternately standing and squatting in front of our table.  Fortunately for you, I’ve worked out a more organized explanation, but still, be glad you’re seated comfortably.

Basically, my idea is “Pay attention, face your cravings, and take control.” (Disclaimer – maybe someone else has thought of this before me, maybe there are lots of books written about it, but if so I don’t know about it.  The seeds of the idea have come to me from many directions.)

Pay attention: Over time, as my diet becomes healthier, I have become more and more aware of the huge impact what I eat has on how I feel.  Many of you will say “duh!” but probably an equal number of you will doubt it.  It is only very recently that the average doctor is beginning to acknowledge that diet can significantly impact prevention and control of disease; many still don’t consider it important enough to discuss during an appointment.  Schools don’t make this connection when they serve high-sugar, high-fat meals in the lunchroom.  Common sense (“garbage in, garbage out”) isn’t always so common.  So for example, I thought I could eat sugar with impunity until I discovered, after thirty years of mild acne, that sugar gives me acne within hours of eating it.  I did not know this because I ate added sugar, at reasonably low levels, almost every day.  So it was only when I thought, “Eh, maybe these anti-sugar fanatics know something I don’t, maybe I could cut back,” and then one day overindulged again, that I made a connection I hadn’t even been looking for.

This isn’t the only example, but I will try not to bore you more than necessary.  The thing is, I now have a strong incentive to not eat sugar excessively.  The pleasure lasts minutes, but the zits last days.  Maybe this doesn’t happen to you.  Maybe with you, the sugar makes you feel jumpy, or just vaguely unhealthy or even guilty.  The point is to pay attention, not just to pounds on the scale, which for me is too distanced, but to how you feel.  I discuss the concept of not being aware of how bad some food makes us feel in another post I wrote, Why Can’t We Stick With a Healthy Diet?

Face Your Cravings: I’m going to continue with the sugar example.  We live on a very short street with no other trick-or-treating kids, and we are cut off from other neighborhoods by a busy road.  So while we could theoretically get some kids, we never do.  Zero.  So I buy a handful of Smarties (my favorite vegan candy) and then there they are after Halloween.  I don’t eat anything like this usually, so I paid close attention when I ate, well, about ten rolls of them one night and then about the same the next night.  In addition to my face breaking out (which I was just beginning to figure out), I noticed that on the third night, I really wanted more Smarties.  Since there were still a few left, I finished them.  The next night, when I wanted them again, there was nothing for it but to sit with this want.  Now, I could have raided the kitchen looking for something to take the place of the Smarties, but because this was a new craving, and I was paying attention, I realized this was something I wanted to get hold of.  I wanted to Take Control.  So I sat there, and just marveled at this feeling inside me.  I didn’t push it away “Bad cravings, go away, what a terrible person I am!” and I didn’t hold it tightly by letting it drag me to the kitchen.  I chuckled to myself, “Wow, those Smarties are really calling me.  What a strong feeling this is.  Good thing I don’t have to follow it, I don’t have to believe it.  I’ll just watch it and see if it gets stronger or not.”  It is also helpful to see this craving, not as the enemy, but as a part of yourself, like a sick child.  Have compassion.  So, within a minute or so it went away.  It might have come back, but I would just do the same thing, and I found that each time, it was easier to let go of.  The next night, I couldn’t care less about Smarties again.  This was empowering information – the craving doesn’t last forever, and doesn’t come back indefinitely!  When I feel like I really want something, the suffering is not indefinite, if only I can take a stand!  And knowing what I do about the acne and the cravings, if you put out a bowl of Smarties for me right now, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t have one.  Like Pavlov’s dog, I can learn.

This isn’t isolated – I had the same thing happen when I cut out (for expense reasons) the dark chocolate I was eating every night.  At first I missed it; that first night, I did have an apple as a substitute, but I was being aware mindfully, and I didn’t expect it to really replace the chocolate.  By the second or third night, I didn’t even think about it.  I have been without it over a month.  I wanted to see if it would raise my blood pressure to have it again (long story), so I tried two pieces in the middle of the afternoon last week.  I didn’t even want them, had to make myself eat them.  I didn’t crave them later, which seems to confirm my suspicion that a craving is not usually set up by having something just once.

Other examples of foods that I suspect create cravings in me are salt and diet soda.  I have no interest in diet soda unless I have had a few cans of it in the past few days; the first can is “meh,” the second one tastes better, and soon I am vastly preferring it to water.  From paying attention, I have learned that diet soda is not worth the craving.  Here is my posting on someone else’s meat addiction.

A friend told me she used the craving technique of having a glass of water, waiting two minutes, and then if she still really wanted whatever having a small piece.  This is very similar.  She’s bringing mindfulness to the situation, instead of just being dragged to the kitchen, whether to have the desired food or a desperate substitute.

Sometimes when I have an urge to have dessert when I would prefer not to, I will fix a pot of tea (I learned to love it without sugar).  Now, if I threw a teabag in a mug with water and shoved it in the microwave, it might not have the same effect as what I do: put water in the kettle, heat it up, measure tea into my teapot, assemble the tea tray, etc, etc.  It is ten mindful minutes from start to finish.  Do you see the connection?  It’s not really about the tea, any more than it was about the apple.  I’m not expecting the tea or apple to substitute for the Smarties or whatever, to fulfill a crunch, or salt or sweet craving.  It’s just a pleasant thing to do while I experience the craving and watch it go away.

As part of this discussion, I encouraged the man at the table to be very aware of where this craving was coming from.  Look all over the body – is it in the hands, the mouth, the chest?  This is very useful information.  In the end, though, if there is no hunger in our stomach, and the craving is coming from somewhere else, is it a good idea to be eating, even if it’s a healthy substitute?  You’ll have to decide that.

Take Control: I’ve already discussed one way to take control, by facing your cravings and not being dragged around by them.  Another way is to set some common-sense rules and just stick to them.  I’m open to the possibility that that is easier said than done.  I wonder sometimes if I don’t have more willpower than other people.  I can’t really understand an unbreakable addiction (though I can have compassion), and have no interest in reading stories about people making poor life choices, Shopaholic, for instance.  So maybe this is just me.  But I set some food rules, like have a breakfast just big enough so I’m starting to get hungry right before lunch.  If for some reason I have real hunger earlier, mid-morning snack will be fruit only.  Same idea for lunch, with any afternoon snack being vegetables only.  I have a sensible dinner, watch my portions.  Some good dinner rules would be, serving bowls stay in the kitchen, served buffet style; use smaller plates; measure portions; seconds only on vegetables.  I was having dessert every night, but decided to cut back so picked the nights that were important.  Now we have dessert three nights a week, and when my children ask for dessert some other night, I scoff, “On a Monday??  People don’t eat dessert on Mondays.”

I also want to point out that the single most helpful food rule, hands down, was “Stop eating animal products.”  When I went from vegetarian to vegan, most of the junk food I used to eat was suddenly off limits.  Bye bye, M&Ms, see ya, doughnuts.  I no longer wanted to eat misery.  Most people would probably say that M&Ms having milk in them would be a real bummer for vegans, but my complexion, my waistline, and I are so thankful I’m not tempted any more.

The other staffer at the table made a very good point, that often these snack substitutes could be foods that we need more of anyway, such as fruit for dessert.  Absolutely.  It’s just that for me, fruit is a poor dessert; I feel like I’ve been had.  And it leaves me in the habit of eating something after dinner, which is what I’d like to drop.

So, maybe that’s just me.  Maybe I offered the guy lousy advice, though he had the other advice to choose from as well.  So if you feel that the rice cakes and canned peaches are working for you, awesome.  But if you feel like these foods are just papering over a steadfast problem, like they’re barely containing the craving, like you need to keep finding the next new product that will really make you stop wanting to eat a wheelbarrow of cookies every night, then maybe it’s time to Pay Attention.

Posted in Nutrition | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Echoes of Our Actions

Posted by tinako on December 22, 2011

A Friendly Farm Sanctuary Goat

It can be easy to get discouraged when we see the suffering in the world, the suffering of both people and animals, in every town across the globe.  We can feel as though the problem is too big, and too few people care.  Even good people we love seem oblivious  and unconcerned about the harm their actions cause.  We can’t see things improving, and change seems impossible.  What is the point of yet another petition or march, when the deck is so completely stacked against us?

I have a very small answer, and it begins with a “Hi.”  Every other day I run two miles along a route with many kids trudging to school, lately in the cold and dark.  As is my policy, I have been giving a cheery “good morning!” to all of them since September.  Beginning with no response, after a month or so a few would say “hi” back, and now in December almost all do, and some even smile!  It is not hard to imagine that someone who smiles and says hi on the way to school is at least .0001% more cheery when they arrive, and says something .0001% nicer to someone else.

I care deeply about the suffering of people, but because this blog is about food, and many vegans and vegetarians feel particularly isolated in their sorrow over animal suffering in the midst of a meat-eating frenzy, I’m going to narrow the rest of my examples.  My closest friend went vegetarian after about a year of discussions about why I switched from vegetarian to vegan.  It was an important part of my life, she cared about me and would ask how it was going for me.  It never in my wildest dreams occurred to me that she would become vegetarian – I was just telling her how I felt.  I never asked her if I had influenced her, since I didn’t want to imply she couldn’t think of it herself, but… probably at least a little, right?  My Dad started out angry at my becoming vegan; two years later, after many conversations, he told me he wanted to be one.  He tells me he often stands up for the vegan position in conversations with friends and family.   (Here’s another great example: The Power of One).  I can think of several friends who have cut back on meat or dairy since knowing me.  A lot of nice people ask me questions about being vegan; they are honestly confused about the issues, and tell me they appreciate my thoughtful, non-judgmental answers.  They don’t usually run home and throw away all their meat, but there’s at least a hairline crack in that wall, and they now know a vegan who doesn’t fit the awful stereotype.

It is not easy to keep saying “hi” to people who ignore you.  It is not easy to stand up for vegan values in an engaging way in the face of indifference or hostility.  It takes courage, it takes patience, and it takes faith, a faith in humanity.  Go ahead and march for farm animals, sign checks and petitions, write letters, hand out leaflets, speak to groups.  I do these things, too, but I bet my greatest influence is unintentional, just in the way I live my life, in the obvious peace I’ve found in letting go of eating animals.  I can stand up firmly for animals in public forums, but I think I shine brightest when I can offer gentler activism one-on-one through my peaceful action and speech.

Ultimately I have to accept that I can’t control other people, or fix the world, and I still have to leave space for compassion for those who are suffering now, but I don’t let it discourage me.  I do see improvement on the larger stage as well.  Many states have recently passed laws improving conditions for farm animals.  Celebrate these victories!  Celebrate even getting this issue onto a ballot.  And celebrate the effects your smaller actions can have, even if they seem to diminish into the darkness.  Keep listening for those echoes, and I think you’ll hear them.

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The dance of delusion

Posted by tinako on April 7, 2010

Believe not on the faith of old manuscripts, your master’s teachings, or national belief.   Believe not on the faith of traditions, popularity, or your own dreamings, persuaded that God inspires you.

No, reason truth yourself.   Examine it, test it, and if you find it does good to one and all, live it, and believe.

– my paraphrase of the Buddha, responding to people asking him how to know which prophets were telling the truth

I was reading a chilling article in the NY Times Magazine recently, “How Baida Wanted to Die.”  It was a series of interviews with Baida, a foiled Iraqi female suicide bomber.  The Iraqi woman was in prison, and the American woman interviewer was told by a police director that she would like Baida.  “She’s honest.”

Of course, this was a very odd thing to say, but the interviewer came to agree with him.  I think they both missed the point.  This woman freely and calmly admitted what she had tried to do and said she couldn’t wait to get out and get the explosive vest waiting for her.  She said it was in revenge for a military raid (including Americans) killing her father and four brothers, all of whom she was helping make IEDs (bombs).  She was making the bombs in revenge for seeing the Americans shoot a neighbor.  She felt these IEDs were all being used against the military, and when the interviewer told her the vast majority killed ordinary Iraqis, she would only say that was forbidden.

This woman may have been honest with the police, and she may have been honest with the interviewer, but she was not honest with herself, and I did not like her.  I feel compassion, yes, for her being immersed in a patriarchal and religious extremist culture of violence, where revenge seems like a reasonable use of one’s life.

But what I found most interesting was a fascinating part of the NY Times article where Baida begs the interviewer to come visit her in prison.  The journalist is warned that Baida, who has a cell phone, may be setting her up for a kidnapping by relatives.  The interviewer is careful and does not tell when she’s coming and does not stay long.  She asks Baida if she wants to kill her, and the woman says, “Frankly, yes.  Not specifically you, because I know you.”  The interviewer pressed her, would she betray her to her family?  “I won’t sacrifice my friendship.  But if they insisted, yes, I would, yes.  As a foreigner it is halal (good) to kill you.  If they kill Americans, they will do a big huge banquet for dinner.”  And she smiled.  She went on to tell how her relatives had called to get information about the journalist, and promised to help Baida escape if she gave it to them.  She seemed excited.  “They do not want to kill you, but to torture you and make lunch of your flesh.  I could not do anything to help you.”  She described seeing an American tortured, his eyes gouged out, and added “God keep you safe.”  She smiled again and continued pleasantly, “If I had not seen you before and talked to you, I would kill you with my own hands.  Do not be deceived by my peaceful face.  I have a heart of stone.”  The journalist left hurriedly, knowing Baida had called her cousins when she arrived, and they were on their way for her.

Baida’s speech sounds psychotic, but it’s just torn.  She has a wall up in her mind between two things that she believes: “All Americans are evil and I want them to die.”  “Some Americans are friendly and helpful and I don’t want them to die.”  This wall is crucial to her daily functioning because obviously these two things are mutually exclusive.  In this fascinating speech, you can see her dancing back and forth from sentence to sentence, peeking first on one side and then the other side of this wall.  Baida has three choices.  Her first choice is to continue to wobble back and forth in this dissonant way, believing two incompatible things.  The alternative is to knock down the wall.  It will be painful to knock it down and see both sides at once, because she will see that her model doesn’t work, that she must give up one of these ideas.  So her second choice is to believe all Americans really are evil and must die; she will then have to convince herself that each American that she meets is evil, from the soldiers handing out candy bars, to the aid workers, and even friendly interviewers.  She will have to mock anyone who supports a more compassionate path.  Her third choice is to knock the wall the other way, to see Americans as they really are, the good and the bad, and to decide what is the best way to respond.

Think Baida is unusually deluded?  As a vegan, I see this dance all the time right here in America.  I used to do it myself.  On one side of the wall is loving animals, wishing them to be happy and free of suffering.  On the other side is eating them.  Those two things are incompatible.  For a long time, I did something like what Baida was doing in the prison.  I gave animals a hug, and then I sat down to eat them.  Oh, little piggy, you’re so cute and so yummy.  Ugh.

So if we recognize that this wall is keeping two incompatible beliefs in our mind, and we set out to be more consistent, what shall we do?  First we knock down the wall, and confront the painful contradiction that we love animals but we eat them.  It hurts too much to see this clearly, and something must change.  Some people knock the rubble down on the compassionate side, burying it, hardening their hearts, at least to food animals.  They are the ones who call pigs lazy and dirty and turkeys stupid.  They mock animal-supporters as sentimental “Bambi lovers.”  They may even work with animals, but they are blinded by the stereotype.  Or they feel they have no choice; there’s a part in Gail Eisnitz’ Slaughterhouse where she quotes a slaughterhouse worker.  I couldn’t find the text just now, but I think his job was to deal with the pigs who fall off the killing line, alive.  He went down into the pit they fall into, and one of the pigs nuzzled his leg and looked up at him.  He said he looked down and thought something like, “This was probably a really nice animal, but in another 30 seconds it would be my job to bash its head in with a pipe.  So I did it.”  Do you suppose that job takes a toll on a person?

The stories trump the obvious truth.  People somehow convince themselves that cows are for eating but cats are not.  People may even tell themselves that we need meat, even though they know lots of people are healthy without it.   People picture animals having a good life on Old McDonald’s Farm, even though they suspect that their meat comes from factory farms.   There is a fine line between ignorance and indifference, and sometimes we nail that line down so it doesn’t get away from us.  We don’t want to know.  The truth isn’t the only victim of this choice.  When we bury our compassion or shackle it to certain species, a heavy price is paid – a part of us, I would say the best part, is dead.

There’s a third choice.  When we confront this inconsistency – love animals or eat them, one or the other, can’t do both – and decide to love them, we can open our eyes to the truth.  I think you will find that vegans and vegetarians can more easily discuss animal body parts and watch difficult movies about animal suffering.  Everyone knows, deep in their hearts, that the “food” on the table is a bowl of arms and the animals in the videos are suffering, but the vegetarians have already faced this truth.  We don’t have the pain of dissonance, of inconsistency, of complicity.  For us it is just raw compassion, mixed with an affirmation of our decision.

Two years ago I knocked down the last of this particular wall, and I embraced love and compassion instead of cheese.  As the Buddha suggested, I find that this truth does good to one and all.  I will live it, and believe.

Delusion

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/16/magazine/16suicide-t.html

I was reading a chilling article in the NY Times Magazine recently,

“How Baida Wanted to Die.”  It was a series of interviews with

Baida, a foiled Iraqi female suicide bomber.  The Iraqi woman was in

prison, and the American woman interviewer was told by a police

director that she would like the Iraqi, “She’s honest.”

Of course, this was a very odd thing to say, but the interviewer

came to agree with him.  I think they both missed the point.  This

woman freely admitted what she had tried to do and said she couldn’t

wait to get out and get the explosive vest waiting for her.  She

said it was in revenge for a military raid (including Americans)

killing her brothers and her husband, all of whom she was helping

make IEDs (bombs).  She was making the bombs in revenge for seeing

the Americans shoot a neighbor.  She felt these IEDs were all being

used against the military, and when the interviewer told her the

vast majority killed ordinary Iraqis, she would only say that was

forbidden.

This woman may have been honest with the police, and she may have

been honest with the interviewer, but she was not honest with

herself, and I did not like her.  I feel compassion, yes, for her

being immersed in a patriarchal and religious extermist culture of

violence, where revenge seems like a reasonable use of one’s life.

It may have been this article or another where the author was

matter-of-factly listing off some recent bombings and casualties,

and I had to stop and take a deep breath.  It was all so insane.  As

Doctor Phil, would say, “How’s that working for you?”  Who is helped

by killing and revenge?  The dark mind finds brief satisfaction in

the suffering of one’s enemy, but is it joy?  Is it happiness?  It

is tinged with hate and anger – it cannot be good.

There was a fascinating part of the article where the Iraqi begs the

interviewer to come visit her in prison.  The journalist is warned

that the prisoner, who has a cell phone, may be settin her up for a

kidnapping by relatives.  The interviewer is careful and does not

tell when she’s coming and does not stay long.  She asks the Iraqi

if she wants to kill her, and the woman says “Frankly, yes.  Not

specifically you, because I know you.”  The interviewer pressed her,

would she betray her to her family?  “I won’t sacrifice my

friendship.  But if they insisted, yes, I would, yes.  As a

foreigner it is halal (good) to kill you.  If they kill Americans,

they will do a big huge banquet for dinner.”  And she smiled.  She

went on to tell how her relatives had called to get information

about the journalist, and promised to help Baida escape if she gave

it to them.  She seemed excited.  “They do not want to kill you, but

to torture you and make lunch of your flesh.  I could not do

anything to help you.”  She described seeing an American tortured,

and added “God keep you safe.”  She smiled again and continued

pleasantly, “If I had not seen you before and talked to you, I would

kill you with my own hands.  Do not be deceived by my peaceful face.

I have a heart of stone.”  The journalist left hurriedly, knowing

Baida had called her cousins when she arrived, and they were on

their way for her.

Baida’s speech sounds psychotic, but it’s just torn.  She has a wall

up in her mind between two things that she believes: “Americans are

bad and I want them to die.”  “Americans are friendly and helpful

and I don’t want them to die.”  This wall is crucial to her daily

functioning because obviously these two things are mutually

exclusive.  In this fascinating speech, you can see her dancing back

and forth from sentence to sentence, peeking first on one side and

then the other side of this wall.  Baida has three choices.  Her

first choice is to continue to wobble back and forth in this

dissonant way, believing two incompatible things.  The alternative

is to knock down the wall.  It will be painful to knock it down and

see both sides at once, because she will see that her model doesn’t

work, that she must give up one of these ideas.  So her second

choice is to believe all Americans are evil and must die; she will

then have to convince herself that each American that she meets is

evil, from the soldiers handing out candy bars, to the aid workers,

and even friendly interviewers.  She will have to mock anyone who

supports a more compassionate path.  Her third choice is to knock

the wall the other way and turn to peace.

Think Baida is unusually deluded?  As a vegan, I recognize this

dance all the time right here in America.  I used to do it myself.

On one side of the wall is loving animals, wishing them to be happy

and free of suffering.  On the other side is eating them.  Think

about it.  Those two things are incompatible.  For a long time, I

did exactly what Baida was doing.  I gave animals a hug, and then I

sat down to eat them.  Dick King-Smith is a chldren’s author (think

“Babe” who is a master at expressing people’s discomfort with this

dissonance, often showing the switch within two sentences.  In this

excerpt, from Ace, the Very Important Pig, Farmer Tubbs is delighted

his piglet is communicating with him, and remembers he’s the

grandson of Babe: “‘So you never know, young Ace – you might be an

extraordinary pig when you’m full grown.’  Except you never will be

full grown, thought the farmer.  I shall sell you…when you’m eight

weeks old, and a few months after that you’ll…be pork.  He was

careful…not to say this out loud…  The piglet might understand

what he was saying.”

So if we recognize that this wall is keeping two incompatible

beliefs in our mind, and we set out to be more consistent, what

shall we do?  First we knock down the wall, and confront the painful

contradiction that we love animals but we eat them.  It hurts too

much to see this clearly, and we must change.  Some people knock the

rubble down on the compassionate side, burying it.  They are the

ones who call pigs lazy and dirty and turkeys stupid.  They mock

animal-supporters as sentimental “Bambi’lovers.”  They may even work

with animals, but they only see the stereotype, not the honest

animal.  They have to willfully enforce their delusions.

There is another children’s story that I recently read to my

daughter that I found illuminating in its simplicity.  “The Three

Erics” is in the wacky book Wayside School, by Louis Sachar. There

are three boys named Eric in the class.  Wikipedia puts it well:

“Each one is given an inapproriate, stereotyped, and just plain

wrong nickname.”  Two of them are fat, and everyone thinks that all

three Erics are fat, so they call the skinny one Fatso.  The kids in

the class make judgements about the Erics based on some of them,

instead of directly seeing and understanding.  They see two mean

Erics so they tell themselves a story that Erics are mean, and when

they come to nickname the third Eric, instead of seeing how nice he

is, they are blinded by their story, and they call him Crabapple.

Similarly, two of the Erics are bad at sports, so the one who is

good at sports is nicknamed Butterfingers.  At first listen, this

just seems silly, but it isn’t hard to think of real-life

situations.  You’re walking down a dark street in a bad part of town

and a group of African Americans is approaching you.  All the

stereotypes pop into your head and you become afraid, but these guys

may turn out to be a pastor and his boys choir leaving evening

services.  Remember the police who killed an innocent immigrant in

his doorway?  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amadou_Diallo)  The

police just saw the whole scene differently, and missed all the cues

that this wasn’t a thug.

So when someone says “Pigs are stupid,” they aren’t basing this on

any direct experience.  Pigs are actually probably smarter than

dogs.  Turkeys can be very affectionate.  At least the Erics’

classmates based their stereotypes on direct experiences with some

Erics – what experience do we have with turkeys?  All these kinds of

statements are an attempt to keep the wall pushed over that way.

Because it if falls on the other side, we have to change, not only

our minds, but our behavior.

Two years ago I knocked down the last of that particular wall, but I

embraced love and compassion instead of cheese.

Posted in Buddhism, Musings | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

Podcasts

Posted by tinako on November 16, 2009

I’m not an expert on podcasts, but I really like them and I’ve had a few people ask me about them.  A couple that I like have to do with food, so that’s the connection here.

A podcast is a series of audio or video files available online for people to download for free.  They can be a minute or an hour long, whatever.  There would usually be more than one from the same people, and they are posted periodically, like a newspaper or a TV show.  Visit the web sites of your favorite media and you may very well find a podcast that you like.  You can also Google for podcasts on topics that interest you or browse through directories such as this one.  There are kids’ podcasts, too, often people reading stories.

Most podcasts offer a variety of ways to listen.  Sometimes they may be embedded in your browser window so that Internet Explorer, for instance, will play them for you right on the page.  For example, this site offers you the ability to do that (press the green triangle under the podcast episode title to play it).  But next to that you see you can also Download it to your computer and play it through Windows Media Player, or save it for later, etc.  It’s just an audio file.

You can subscribe to a podcast using your browser bookmark.  Look around the podcast page for “Subscribe” or “RSS.”  This will let you add a bookmark tab that keeps changing to show you the available podcasts (usually your bookmarks stay the same, right?”).  Then you can quickly see what’s new without visiting a bunch of sites.

But I don’t do this.  I use podcatcher software that came with my MP3 player.  Mine is a Creative Zen so the podcast catcher is called ZENcast.  I tell it what podcasts I like and when I open it it automatically downloads the latest ones.  I can use it to transfer to my MP3 player, or I can listen or watch right at my computer.  iTunes does this for iPod players.  There are also free online ones – I think Google Reader is one.  (I recommend making sure any MP3 player you buy comes with good software – we bought a Sansa and it comes with nothing, leaving you at the mercy of a patchwork of freeware and Microsoft applications.)

So that’s what I do.  I already have the podcasts I like set up.  I run ZENcast, it downloads the latest, and I transfer them to my player and take it out for a walk.  I mostly listen to podcasts while I walk, run, or drive.

Here are the ones I like:

Two podcasts that have changed my life:

  • Vegetarian Food For Thought: Series of talks on vegan issues, including ethics, communication, nutrition, recipes, and literature
  • Zencast: This is a series of very approachable lectures on Zen Buddhism, including a five-week meditation course.

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