It’s not easy being vegan in a non-vegan world. It can be difficult to retain a positive outlook and a balance between supporting animal rights while connecting with non-vegan friends and family members. It can be frustrating to hold onto your ethics when the rest of humankind remains oblivious to the connection between the animals they eat and the animals they keep as pets. It can be upsetting to know that you can’t do more, and exhausting to think that you should be doing more.
If you’re already vegan then you know all this – and you’re probably forgetting something, too. That you have already made an amazing choice. You made the leap. You chose to go against the grain and follow a path based on thought, understanding, and compassion. Maybe family members stood in your way. It’s likely that you encountered negativity, even unkindness, on your journey. Not all your friends understood your choice or wanted to see your point of view. You may be tired of being called self-righteous or arrogant for feeling happy with your veganism and wanting to discuss it with others. So you get angry, and unhappy, and you feel helpless, and then you get angry again.
But some part of you, no matter how small that part may be, probably came to veganism out of compassion. Maybe you did it for other animals, or based on environmental reasons. Maybe you did it for yourself. We often focus on the ‘why’ as vegans and forget about the ‘wow’: that compassion is a beautiful and fragile thing to hold on to, yet we choose to do it. Every day. I’m not saying that non-vegans don’t do this, but their dietary choices are seldom attacked and ridiculed the way that vegans are, and they rarely- if ever- have to justify their diets to anyone.
So how do we hold onto compassion when others don’t offer us any? How do we let go of anger at the way other species are treated when society demonstrates it to us daily?
You probably already think a lot about ethics and lifestyle choices, but what about nourishment on an emotional or spiritual level? This may sound a bit ‘New Agey’ to you, but there is scientific backing here, and a wealth of evidence that looks at the benefits of positive thinking.
Nourishment through Positive Thinking and Mantras
In many ways, you are what you believe. This is where repeating a daily mantra can help. Give yourself five minutes a day to look in the mirror and repeat a mantra to yourself. You might fight it. You might cringe and laugh at yourself. You may even get angry and throw expletives in my direction (that’s okay- I don’t mind!). It’s all part of the process: mantras are about the process. One day you will look yourself in the eye and realise that you already believe what you are about to say. Repeat your chosen mantra daily. Don’t will yourself to believe it: let go of what the words mean as you repeat them, and they will find a way in. Your beautiful, compassionate mind will do the rest for you.
Here are a few example mantras to get you started:
I am healthy and I make conscious, positive choices.
I am part of something amazing and I am grateful to have found this path.
I aim to practice living compassionately. My ethics and gentle living touch all those around me.
I am patient with myself and with all the beings in my life.
I am doing my best, and that is amazing in itself.
Nourishment through Meditation
If mantras aren’t quite your thing, giving yourself ten minutes a day to meditate can have amazing mental health benefits. Science has long-recognised that meditation can help to ease anxiety through strengthening areas of the brain that process information and deal with multi-tasking. Incorporate a routine of a set time and place to meditate into your day. Choose somewhere away from your usual hang-outs and an uncluttered, quiet spot if possible- to begin with, at least. Sit cross-legged and straight-backed with your eyes closed, and just sit still and listen to the world around you. Again, your mind will protest. Allow your thoughts to wander, and watch anxieties and worries melt away as you gently lead your thoughts back to the present moment. Over time you will be able to channel this newly-created space or mental energy into chosen areas of your life, and learn to meditate without the quiet space by ‘letting go’ at any moment.
This is also a very useful tactic in dealing with the usual vegan-oriented comments and questions such as ‘what do you eat?!’ and ‘but I like eating animals!’ Deep breath, mental space, aaaand relax.
Nourishment through Physical Activity
A mind-nourishing option that requires more focused thinking is Pilates, which is a form of gentle exercise used to treat exercise strains. The effect Pilates can have of balancing and strengthening different parts of the body is well documented, and with a spiritual focus it can do the same for the mind.
I recall my first Pilates class fondly; we had to sit facing our toes, and focus on moving each toe separately. This lasted a while. I left with some frustrated thoughts on my mind, but then I went back. And again. And over time the negative thoughts dissipated and were replaced with calm and a new confidence in my body. Do you know how far your toes can extend when they are stretched and relaxed? Pilates is a beautiful and effective way of balancing mind and body without having to get all ‘New Agey’ about it.
For those who like to extend themselves physically or push themselves for a good workout, yoga is an excellent option. Again, many of the benefits are well documented. There is every type of yoga available today to suit every budding yogi’s need, but the style I recommend for mind-body connection is Ashtanga yoga – also known as ‘power’ yoga.
As my Ashtanga teacher says, ‘everything that is necessary takes place between you and the mat’. During my regular Ashtanga practice I find myself wrestling with recent and old triumphs and tribulations, both internally and externally. Tensions I have been holding in my mind or my body are forced to dissipate. As the body heats up the limbs begin to lengthen and strengthen, the Ujjayi breath gathers power, and the mind of the Ashtanga pupil goes through a tantric metamorphosis that forcefully rids the mind and body of stress and prepares them for the time ahead.
As with the other techniques I have listed, my mind rejected yoga at first. It simply wouldn’t focus where it needed to, and ‘let go’ when necessary. Through many sessions of pushing my body to extraordinary limits, my mind slowly developed the discipline and commitment that are necessary to this practice. Now, after a two-hour Ashtanga session, I charge forward and point my mind towards my goals, and without this mentally-empowering and spiritually connecting tool at my fingertips I feel sure that I wouldn’t be half as productive as I am. It leaves me focused, energised, and feeling great- something we could all do with a bit more of in our lives.
Understandably as vegans, we spend a lot of focus on our bodies, and dealing with the outside world which has so much to say about us based on our diets and ethics. But are you nourishing your inner vegan? You went against the grain to make a positive choice for the world, and you can also go against negative emotions to cultivate peace within yourself. What have you got to lose?