The following post is written by vegan blogger, Brooke, from How to Vegan.
“Vegan for the animals.” It’s a phrase that I hear or see almost daily, and one that I identify with whole heartedly. I am one of those people who gave up animal products from my life for ethical reasons, because the treatment of animals in industry is something that haunts my mind. I can distinctly remember the time in my life when I really forced myself to come face to face with the realities of animal exploitation. I can remember it because I was depressed and could not get these images out of my mind, 24 hours a day. I had finally forced myself to not look away, no matter how badly I wanted to. I made the connection between my plate and the lives of these animals, and it was haunting. I was sad, defeated, and overwhelmed by the reality that no matter what I do, I can’t even put a dent in the 10 billion animals slaughtered for food every year. There was no way.
It was at this time that I began eliminating animal products completely. I had become vegetarian because I knew it was wrong instinctually. I love animals, therefore I shouldn’t kill them. But it took a serious reality check to convince me that eggs and dairy were equally, if not more brutal. Also around this time I had just moved to a new city, I was unemployed, I had no friends here, and I was lost. I had no idea what I wanted to be doing, I just knew I needed to be doing something. Sitting around really is not my thing. And sitting around was causing my mind to wander to places that were honestly just not good for my mental health. Without making this a post about depression, I will just say that I was coming face to face with a lot of things from my early life, not just my causal responsibility for animal exploitation. I needed purpose and direction to get me out of it, and I was having a hard time finding it.
During this down time, I started to get back into yoga. I promise you I am not going to get too cliche here, I have since fallen out of my yoga practice yet again, but it was in a yoga class that I made a connection that would change my life. I began to realize that in these classes, I was feeling a sense of peace and happiness that was so profound, it struck me every time. My mind was completely clear. I was no longer concerned with what I was doing, where I was going, how to fix things. I felt in control of my own mind and in those moments I was simply happy. And then the yoga instructor would end every class with “may I have peace, may you have peace, may all beings have peace.”
It is hard to explain, but hearing that phrase while in such a peaceful state is kind of life changing. “May all beings have peace.” In that moment it translated as “May all beings experience what I am experiencing right now. A profound feeling of autonomy, happiness, and mental freedom.” What a wonderful world that would be. And then I would leave class, my eyes would adjust to the light, and slowly I would begin to come back to reality and put these feelings into the context of the real world. Every single time, I came back to the same thought. Anyone can experience this peaceful state of mind, assuming that nobody is physically stopping them from doing so. So, if we want to live in a world where there is universal peace, we each need to make the commitment not to actively interfere in the lives of others. If I’m putting it bluntly, my meditation was just a long, drawn out way for me to come to the conclusion that world peace is really just a matter of individuals committing to not being an asshole. Suddenly this huge complex idea of wide spread peace became so clear in my mind.
Now, before I lose you, let me just say that I do not think I am saving the world by begin vegan. Not even close. I still am fully aware of the fact that I am not even making a dent, and that the world has a lot of issues aside from animal suffering. But what was life changing about this moment for me was that I now had hope. The solution to the problem was clear and simple. The only way to make a difference was to make an individual commitment, and try my best to influence others to make the same commitment. It was not an easy solution by any means, but knowing that there was a solution at all gave me a massive sense of relief. And that I could be a part of that solution gave me that purpose and direction that I was desperately searching for.
After that point, veganism became central to my happiness. I have a hard time even typing that, but it is true. For so long, I was depressed and anxious because I hated the world that I lived in. I hated (and still hate) the suffering that humans impose on others. I was disgusted by the way that we live and the things that we do to each other. And I was overwhelmed and burdened by the idea that there was nothing I could ever do about it. Separating myself from that lifestyle was, and is, the only way I could be happy in this world. I needed to prove to myself that it was possible to not be one of those people, because then I knew it was possible for everyone to do the same. And I knew a different world was possible.
The commitment in my own life to veganism is really just one example of the commitment that I have made to being cruelty free. I have slowed down in general. I smile at people I don’t know. I let people go in front of me at the in line at the grocery store. I say please and thank you more. I judge people less and care a lot more about what makes people happy, even if it’s weird or not traditional. In my job, I find it important to give people a nice place to work. I am kinder to everyone, not just animals. It is these moments of kindness that, one by one, have brought me out of that dark time in my life. They’ve made me feel like in some very small way, I can impact the lives of others. And more than anything I know that the peace and happiness that I feel so deeply as a result of living cruelty free could never possibly be matched by the fleeting feeling of comfort that I once got from eating bacon or cheese.