This month’s cover photo was taken at the Naramata Centre as I was walking between workshops at last year’s Spring Festival of Awareness. One of their three male peacocks decided to go into full display and rotated in a circle several times, showing his opulent feathers. I took several photos and made a video as he performed for several minutes. I am grateful, for over the years I have tried but never got a photo like this.
I really wanted to put Nelson Mandela on the cover as he is one of my heroes, but that is something I don’t normally do, as I prefer Issues to have a local focus. But I did create a page within in his honour so that people can be inspired to continue his legacy. Thank goodness apartheid is no longer legal, though sadly it still lingers in many a mind and community. My parents made it clear to me as a child that everyone is equal. Mom told me stories of her great aunts being part of the underground railway, which was not an actual railroad but a secret network of routes and safe houses that helped people escape slavery around the 1850s.
For years I have been contemplating the concept, “We are all One.” Recently I read this quote from a two-thousand-year-old classic called the Tao Te Ching, written by a Chinese philosopher called Lao Tzu. One verse that resonated says, “What is well planted cannot be uprooted. What is well embraced cannot slip away. Your descendants will carry on the ancestral sacrifice for generations without end. Cultivate virtue in your own person, and it becomes a genuine part of you. Cultivate it in the family, and it will abide. Cultivate it in the community, and it will live and grow. Cultivate it in the state, and it will flourish abundantly. Cultivate it in the world, and it will become universal. Hence a person must be judged as a person, a family as family, a community as community, a state as state, the world as the world. Hence how do I know about the world? By what is within me.”
I looked up the word virtue, which means moral excellence. Aristotle says the following about it: “The point of greatest virtue lies not in the exact middle, but at the right times, about the right things, towards the right people, for the right end, and in the right way.” In Aristotle’s sense, virtue is excellence at being human, a skill that helps a person survive, thrive, form meaningful relationships, and find happiness, and this requires common-sense smarts, not necessarily high intelligence.
So how do I cultivate virtue so it becomes a genuine part of me? I take time to think deeply, which by definition is called musing, the title my angels choose for this column. I think of myself as having common-sense smarts, which I often combine with deep feelings of truth that I muse on before I create a change in my life. Add to this a few ah-ha moments, maybe a message or conversation that sticks with me, or combine it with the voice of my angels, and I may start to notice myself change as I let go of something that is no longer serving me.
My change started slowly around 1985 when my stomach revolted from the smell of wet feathers and blood and I said to myself, “I never want to do this again.” The next time chickens needed killing, I took them to a poultry farm where they did it for $1 each. Several of my laying hens had likeable personalities and when I refused to send them to the slaughter house just because they were older and not laying as many eggs, I knew the seed for change was planted, for I had never given a second thought up until then to the killing of animals for food. As a child I can remember refusing to eat animals that were my pets. Moose meat and chickens were okay. I can still remember when my husband first told me that he did not know how to shoot a gun. I cried and asked how he was going to feed his family … of course, my brothers were happy to help out.
I had always read health books, as my digestion did not seem to work that well. Generally, they all said we eat too much animal protein and fat, so I started to adjust our diet accordingly, learned of tofu and served more fish. When I decided to make every other day vegetarian, my husband revolted, for I had changed much in those twenty-five years. By then I was organizing the Spring Festival and hanging out with meditators, yogis and people who did not eat meat. This helped to make the switch easier, but I had much to learn about protein absorption and creating tasty main dishes.
Today I regard my being a vegetarian as virtuous. It may take the family I raised a few generations to think so, but I figure every family needs to have one brave soul be the first. When the knowing or feeling comes from a place in the heart, it is easy to make that choice and afterwards figure out the details to make it work.
At the 1967 World Vegetarian Congress in India, the Dalai Lama said, “I do not see any reason why animals should be slaughtered to serve as human diet when there are so many substitutes. After all, man can live without meat. In our approach to life, be it pragmatic or otherwise, the ultimate truth that confronts us squarely and unmistakably is the desire for peace, security and happiness. No matter whether they belong to the higher group as human beings or to the lower group, the animals, all beings primarily seek peace, comfort and security. Life is as dear to a mute creature as it is to a man. Just as one wants happiness and fears pain, just as one wants to live and not to die, so do other creatures.”
Perhaps our environment will force us to change as water and grain become more precious. John Robbins says it takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef. Farmers say it is closer to 500 gallons, depending on the irrigation needed to grow the grain. Today, because of the facts surfacing about factory farming, many people are eating much less meat. I know that change is inevitable as we mature in spirit.
Isaac Bashevis Singer gave this perspective “People often say that humans have always eaten animals, as if this is a justification for continuing the practice. According to this logic, we should not try to prevent people from murdering other people, since this has also been done since the earliest of times.”
Thích Nhất Hạnh continues with “By eating meat we share the responsibility of climate change, the destruction of our forests, and the poisoning of our air and water. The simple act of becoming a vegetarian will make a difference in the health of our planet.”
Nelson Mandela’s best quote is, “It always seems impossible until it is done.” He was released from prison at the same time I started publishing Issues, February 1990, which is the same year that Earth Day was first celebrated. Seems the world was ready for change, I sure was.