After reading Foer's latest "Eating Animals" for some reason, I was drawn to reading a book that was about just that: eating animals. Julia Child's book "My Life in France" kind of jumped up and opened up in my hands while I was housesitting last month.
It is kind of a bizarre shift to go from reading books that inspire one to drop all animal products from the diet to another book that almost heralds eating animals and butter and dairy and animals stuffed inside of other animals coated with butter and basted in milk (and sometimes stewed in blood) and then (obviously) topped off with cheese. But Foer's book about the atrocities of the meat industry definitely gave me a new lens to view Child's book with.
And here's the thing...I really like Julia Child. I think if we were kicking it in France, we'd probably become good friends and I'd tell how great it is to be a lesbian and she'd cook me some food and we'd be pen pals for life. I really got behind her when she wrote:
"This is the kind of food I had fallen in love with. Not trendy, souped up fantasies, just something very good to eat. It was classic French cooking, where the ingredients have been carefully selected and beautifully and knowingly prepared. Or...'food that tastes of what it is'"
I think that Foer and Child could agree on this point. Food should taste of what it is.
I struggled with vegan "alternatives" (fake cheese, fake meat, processed soy...) and whether they were really better for me than the "natural" choices available...until I read Foer's book and realized how processed most animals actually are. Factory farmed chickens do not taste like "chicken" - a lot of that flavour has to get added in after the chicken is killed in order to keep the people eating it happy. It's actually quite weird and twisted and very far from this idea of "good" food. I wonder if we just let factory farmed chickens taste of what they actually were (ie; gross), how soon it would take people to revolt and demand a change.
Truth be told, I love food. I love cooking, I love trying fancy new recipies, I love watching my friends' faces when they eat something I made that tastes incredible (and then I love telling them it's vegan...that's my favourite). I also have this weird desire to always "do the right thing" (thank mom?) - so once you are armed with knowledge about the meat industry, it's hard to look back. This being said, I think if Julia Child were my peer, she'd be one kick ass, dynamite vegan chef! It blows my mind how incredible vegan food can taste and makes me wonder how we are still so married to our traditions of meat and dairy.
I think there is something of a revolution in the works and it's pretty exciting to see it starting.
My partner and I should have gone to bed last night, but instead we were sitting around the kitchen table and talking about her job. We were talking about something in regards to "snitching" - apparently this is a bit of an issue with the population that she works with and in particular understanding that sometimes it is actually GOOD to tell an authority figure about what is up and when someone may be in danger.
Anyway, this went around and around until finally we came to an important realization: we have to learn how to see the world in non-absolutes, in non black and white dichotomies.
And then I thought about the movie Crash (we just re-watched it the other day...go watch it if you haven't done so already).
Watch This Scene (to set it up, you have to know that the woman in the car crash was sexually harassed / molested a few days earlier by the cop who tries to save her)
The entire movie plays off this theme of there being no such thing as "a bad guy": the police are good and they are bad, the people who are heros do some terrible things, the people who you think are bad are really pretty decent, and all of us are suffering incredibly at the end of the day.
Usually when I think of themes for my yoga practice, I start with the small picture (what happens to me on my mat) and then zoom out to think about how this is true in my everyday life. But this kind of worked the other way around...I started to notice how easy it is to see my left or right side as the "bad" side, or how this one pose is "the devil pose" or how much I wish this pose would just disappear because clearly it was the span of satan (not naming any names).
All of the stuff that comes up in our practice is neither good nor is it bad, it just IS...we decide to put those labels on and thus frame our experience with the poses, our teachers, the person practicing next to us, our family, the police, our worlds...and consequently, we might be missing out on something because we have already decided what something is. And like in the movie, Crash, that something might just save your life...
While practicing, I am often thinking of the Pattabhi Jois quote: "Yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory". I like to remember this when I think that my legs are too long to properly do bhujapindasana or a decent jump through and then I remember that those people who actually have a strong, clear, and clean practice, had to work on it to get it.
And then sometimes I get a little self-congratulatory while in practice (inner monologue goes something like: Yes! I AM awesome! Look at me practicing. Pattabhi would be so so so proud of me. It doesn't matter if I suck at this pose, and that pose, and the one after that, I am freaking PRACTICING!"). And while I totally can sympathize with this expression of my own ego, I think I also have to remember that sometimes I stop "practicing" in a pose.
I'll be doing bhujapindasana, and always give up when my toes graze the floor and think to myself "well, that's all I can do today, whatever, it's over...NEXT POSE!" and quickly stop trying to "practice" getting the asana.
Practicing is as much about coming onto your mat everyday as it is being PRESENT on your mat everyday and actually trying to improve yourself, rather than just show up.
I think Albert E. would make a great yoga student. I think he kind of gets things about life that take a lot of us a long time to figure out. I love this quote...Einstein said "It's not that I'm so smart, I just stay with problems longer".
So maybe having a strong practice is not about having a super bendy or super-human strength, but just having the willingness to stick with problems that come up a little longer.
I taught my first yoga class in over a year (see the sheer joy manifested as me in this picture)!
I think I mentioned on here how I took a year off from teaching with the primary intention of being able to have a daily practice. It has been marvelous reveling in the joys of learning, being a student, practicing often, and exploring new aspects of this practice.
And when I asked for some teaching this summer, I started to get really nervous about teaching again...would I remember the series, would I remember how to speak in front of other people, would be totally awkward? These little fears (shall we call them fearlets?) were sounding freakier in my echoey head then they were in the bright sun of the day, because the class was great! 5pm, level 2, at the Danforth. Lots of regulars that I know before, lots of great moments, tons of smiling, and a really nice welcome back to the practice of sharing a practice.
The whole experience has me convinced of how important being a student is. Last night, I actually felt like I had REAL things to share with the class: ideas, sequences, insights, jokes...all that have been absorbed from the year of just focusing on my own practice. If I were nominated the yoga-police, I would make it mandatory for all teachers to have a daily practice. You just can't consistently give to your students without refueling yourself through asana.
I remember in school this past year (teachers college) writing a paper on inspiring students to develop lifelong literacy. One major theme through the reading I did to write the paper was the idea that we can't expect students to fall in love with reading if teachers themselves are not reading (or love reading). How can we expect our yoga students to develop an appreciation, a love, a commitment for a regular practice if their teachers don't have one?
Perhaps we need to change the name of teachers to be something of a hybrid of a teacher and a student (teachdent, studeacher, stutedenacher...none of these really sound that brilliant). There is something in a name and when we put ourselves in one category ("I am a TEACHER") it's easy to negate the other things that we also are (flawed, learning, discovering our own way, a student). I am a student and I am a teacher. I am learning and I am sharing. I have things that I know and skyscrapers could be filled with the things I don't know...
You know those books that you hear your Mom talking about, then that guy in the grocery store, then your boss, then your teacher...and you're like enough already, I get the hint, I should read this book! That's kind of what this book was like for me.
So a big disclosure to begin with: I'm a vegetarian, I have been since I was 16 when it sounded like the thing to do, the thing to help make me a little more unique during a time in my life when being unique was pretty much all there was to life. And I think that eventually I just got used to wearing the "I am a vegetarian" badge through high school and later into my university days that it made sense to just continue doing what I've just done for so long...and besides it just fit the rest of this "person" I was constructing: I had dreadlocks, I played ani songs on guitar, I was sensitive, and quirky and this was just part of me.
And while I have since flirted with both being a vegan and the occasional fish eater (I wondered if eating fish and eggs for protein was "better" for me than eating all that synthetic weird fake meat food and protein powder stuff I was eating), reading the book "Eating Animals" has helped to give me a bit of a leg to stand on in regards to understanding why avoiding meat (and animal products, as the author doesn't explicitly say that veganism is the way to go, he does suggest it subtly) is a good life choice.
"I assumed we'd maintain a diet of conscientious inconsistency. Why should eating be different from any of the other ethical realms of our lives? We were honest people who occasionally told lies, careful friends who sometimes acted clumsily. We were vegetarians who from time to time ate meat" (p. 9).
And that's just one of the things I've been left to wonder about: I don't consider myself to be a woman with loose morals, but I do honestly believe that I could stand to gain a little more integrity in my life...and yes, my diet is included in that. How do my food choices affect the way that I interact and behave in the world? I think that after reading this book, I can't honestly believe that what I put into my body has no repercussions other than the odd tummy ache, bloating, and mucus formations.
I wouldn't suggest this book to people who hate feeling uncomfortable. I wouldn't suggest this book to people who hate feeling challenged. I would never suggest this book to someone who was not open to the possibility of changing their habits and things they have just always done. I do think that this is a book that people concerned with waking up should read, as it does feel like once you know, there is no more pretending like you don't know.
Johnathan Safran Foer asks: "What did you do when you learned the truth about eating animals?" which just might beg us to put the notion of eating animals up against the atrocities of slavery, the holocaust, the horrors of the tobacco industry or forced child labour, which I know to some people seems like a ridiculous comparison, but they may just be as horribly appropriate as we fear.
Frank Jude, one of the best teachers I know, begs his students to ask themselves "what is at the centre of your mandala?" and after thinking a little about what was at mine (teaching, art, love, poetry, leslie, family, cuddling) Frank answered "Awakening is at the centre of mine" (which made everything I was thinking of seem incredibly lame). If waking up is at the centre of your mandala, please read this book...please read this book and then pass it on to as many other people you know - it just might be what helps us get out of this mess we've created.
I had a splendid phone date with my platonic life partner who lives in Vancouver last night - and obviously we chatted most of the time about yoga.
For a bit of context, this is the woman who first introduced me to Moksha AND Ashtanga (what else are you going to introduce me to, lady?) and that has been with me for a lot of fun (and not so fun) life moments. We were talking about the idea of a daily practice and the guilt that can come along for the ride when we miss a day or two (or three or four) of practicing.
Clearly, we are both logical and intelligent enough women that we know that everyone is not going to laugh at us - but this idea of "failure" because we don't practice was definitely present in our experience
And I notice this with new teachers too during the 30 day challenge project as well. Often a day or two gets missed - that's life...but in a surprisingly large number of people's journals is written "I didn't practice today. I fail" - I mean, we wouldn't allow a young child to use this kind of self-deprecating language, so why is it any better for adults to?
Frank Jude, one of my favourite teachers and people in world reminded me of this when I would talk to him about meditation. He said something like: when you are practicing, be fully present in practicing. When you are not present, be fully present in the non-practicing. It's normal to feel guilt for not practicing, but guilt is kind of useless on its own unless it inspires you to change.
I like this and I share it with my students...and myself every time I miss a practice.
For the record though, I did practice today and did my best to be present in the practicing of the practice.