A Contemplation On The Spirituality of Veganism by Nephyr Jacobsen
Being vegan is simultaneously a layering of knowledge and an unfolding of self. It leads me to continuously learn more about the world in which I live, even as it draws me to look within for clues of what my soul has always known.
In the external, left-brain space I have spent hours, days, weeks, researching the physical impact that consumption of meat & dairy has on animals, global humanity, individual health, air quality, water purity & availability, and ultimately, this planet, our home. I have compiled a litany of statistics, quotes and facts that reside, like suits of armor, on my bookshelves and in binders and files. I wear the armor protectively while in debates with those who find my lifestyle choices "extreme". I wear it gently in conversations with vegetarians who secretly wish to be vegan but who aren't sure. It is beautiful, this suit of armor made of knowledge, and I am grateful for the support it has given me. But it is only half of the story of my veganism and, despite its shining visibility, it is in truth the smaller half.
The other half, the spiritual side of veganism, is harder to define. There are no lists of statistics to explain the joyous dance my spirit engages in while my hands coax grains and vegetables into decadently delicious nourishment. A passionate discussion on the evils of factory farming does nothing to convey the sense of connection and harmony that this path of non-violence gives me. I find "oneness" in the woods when I see an elk and whisper "It's OK, I'm vegan. It is your beauty, not your flesh, that sustains me."
And what beauty there is to be seen! For in this journey based upon compassion, I find my eyes opened to the life force sacredness of my four legged and scaled and winged kin.
The price of participation in abuse and slavery includes the blinders we must wear to shield ourselves from the brilliance of those we enslave. When we choose not to participate in the abuse we are freed to be awestruck by the depths of a cow's eyes, to be mesmerized by the living artistry of fish in their watery world, to be filled with love overflowing for the magic of life. It is in this vision of magic, not in the lists of horrific facts, that my veganism is rooted. Underneath the fight for animal rights, the furious fist shaking at the killing floors, underneath the sorrow and pain that comes from knowledge of cruelty-underneath all of this, the spiritual path of veganism unfolds me to find a source not made of anger, statistics or tears, but of love and awe and ultimate respect.
Like all spiritual paths there are conun-drums. There are places where I hit my head against the wall in confusion. There are constant reminders of the infancy of my journey. At times my sense of "oneness" disintegrates as I wonder how a path that so easily connects me to the life pulse of nature can so easily alienate me from my fellow humans who see my lifestyle as "radical" or "strange". I feel clumsy, inadequate, infinitely unenlightened as my heart, bursting with compassion, becomes that shaking angry fist.
And in the end there is the ultimate knowledge that true veganism is impossible; that at the end of this path I am walking there is no destination, but instead a great mystery. True non-violence is a question mark. For we live in a world where life feeds on life. With my every footstep something is crushed. In the making of the bread I eat there is death, from the grain to the yeast. True non-violence, veganism at the end of its thread, requires that we sit still, eat nothing, and cease to breathe. In doing so we kill a living organism that is just as beautiful and sacred as any other life force, and this, even in its softness, is an act of violence. Here lies the last predictable conundrum of veganism. Here lies the mystery and the question, "how do I walk this walk, how do I live this life in love and peace?"
Ultimately I know the mystery at the end of the path does not matter. I am many spirit miles from there anyway. What matters, as always, is the journey: the peace and joy in the unfolding of self that is found as I let go of violence one step at a time; the understanding of the magic in the mundane that I gain as I make choices that support and reveal the life force. What matters is that this lifestyle we call veganism asks the questions, not that it answers them all. What matters is that it comes from, goes to, and believes in the soft unfolding of love.
Nephyr Jacobsen is a deep tissue massage therapist and teaches vegan cooking classes. She is currently writing a book about vegan cooking and spirituality. 503-604-5694. .
cover art © Leo Wyman