A Month Without Meat

So, last month I decided to go 7 days without meat, as part of my experimentation in and consideration of vegetarianism. As I wrote before, I am pretty much in agreement with vegetarianism as an ethical stance, but struggle to put it into practise. So, I gave it a go and 7 days went by, which then became 10, which then became 2 weeks, and then I decided to go for a full month.

As it went on I found it easier and easier. Preparing my own lunches helped ( but do take a bit of planning as I don’t like cheese or eggs so need to go find the shops that do suitable meat-replacement hams etc.) Then I started getting salad wraps/sandwiches whilst out and found them not only satisfactory, but very nice.

The real temptation came when I was eating out in restaurants. One night, for a friend’s birthday, I went for a vegetarian stir fry, as my friend across from me tucked into a massive, juicy steak. I admit, my mouth watered, and my stomach rumbled a bit, but I soldiered on. As time went by however I felt myself increasingly comfortable with my decision and having little to no cravings for meat, day to day. These temptations only appeared when out and other people ordered meat. A working lunch in a local kebab restaurant was another incident – I ordered a veggie kebab (in which the meat was replaced with onion bajis) which was fine, but our boss treated us to a massive platter of meat for a starter. As everyone tucked in, I had to stare at my plate. Interestingly, this meal was after my self-prescribed 4-week period so by my own rules I would have been free to tuck in, but I just didn’t want to.

I had no intentions to go ‘cold turkey’ (excuse the pun) on meat, but to gradually wean myself off, but the ‘month of no meat’ just happened by itself. By the time the kebab lunch rolled around something had changed – I was very used and comfortable with ordering meals without meat and I kept going. It was a mix of habit and an increasing guilt at the idea of eating meat which had crept in (I am Irish ex-Catholic, after all).

The very next day, however, my meat-sabbatical ended – by accident. I was out at another cafe and a communication breakdown ended up with my ‘salad wrap’ containing chicken. I bit in and realised and decided rather than go back with it, I would just eat it. It was there, it was prepared, my 4 weeks was up and I’m not a quote-unquote vegetarian. I didn’t have a sudden moment of meat-induced clarity where I saw the true light, nor was I repulsed and unable to eat it. It was just chicken.

Since then, however, I’ve been back to my salad wraps.

I thought that my breaking the sabbatical would result in a total ‘falling off the wagon’. I’ve become very used to forming habits that have to be sustained – if I break, I tend to break forcefully. I maintain a daily sitting meditation practice, and have noticed that if I miss a day, traditionally I then end up missing a few days. Same with healthy eating habits etc. But recently with these I’ve become much better at getting back on the horse the very next day. And so it appears to be going with avoiding meat.

I’m still not committing to being a vegetarian – it might be sometime before I ever actually do so, but I have significantly reduced my meat intake. I think after the 4 week experiment I will go back to being less strict and see how it goes, but it has shown me that I can do it.

Some people I know had assumed I was now a ‘full veggie’ but I don’t want to give this impression as I will most definitely eat meat again at some stage. I’ve been advised to both gradually wean myself off meat or alternatively to make a complete, clean break. I almost did the clean break – but I think a more gradual move is best, for now.

We’ll see how I get on.

Anger is an energy

I’ve been thinking recently about anger. In the current climate of austerity there is a lot of anger about and talk of anger. A refrain you hear from time to time is “Why aren’t you angry?” or “If you are not angry you are not paying attention”. I’ve struggled with this as I’ve been trying to practice compassion and non-violence. I think to myself “anger is a bad thing, and an unhelpful reaction” – to quote Yoda “Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

As I’ve thought about this, I’ve also realised that I should “check my anger privilege”. As a straight, white male, in a relatively affluent country, it’s absurd for me to tell other people who live lives far harder than mine “not to be angry”. But I still can’t help but feel that “anger” is a destructive response.

But His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama, of course, has an enlightened take on it. When asked “Is it un-Buddhist to feel anger and indignation?” he replied:

Here the issue is how to deal with anger. There are two types of anger. One type arises out of compassion; that kind of anger is useful. Anger that is motivated by compassion or a desire to correct social injustice, and does not seek to harm the other person, is a good anger that is worth having. For example, a good parent, out of concern for a child’s behavior, may use harsh words or even strike him. He may be angry, but there is no trace of any desire to hurt him.

[…]

anger brings more energy, more determination, more forceful action to correct injustice.

As always in Buddhism, motivation is vital

The deep motivation is compassion, but it takes anger as the means to accomplish its ends.

This is vital to remember when anger arises.

The question is a person’s state of mind or the motivation that causes the action. When we act, that act arises out of a cause that already exists in us. If we act when our inner motivation is hatred toward another person, then that hatred expressed as anger will lead to destructive action. This is negative action. But if we act out of consideration for the other person, if we are motivated by affection and sympathy, then we can act out of anger because we are concerned with that person’s well-being.

This take on it is highly instructive. It transforms anger into an energy which can have very different consequences. If it is anger arising from injustice, than it can be used to drive change (as long as the target of the anger is the injustice itself, not people involved). This was echoed by Lama Yeshe of Kagyu Samye Ling monastery in Scotland. He was giving a talk in Dublin last year and was asked about how to be compassionate to your enemies. As a man who was chased out of Tibet by Chinese soldiers who killed some of his compatriots, he harbours no hatred towards the people who did these deeds. Like most Tibetan’s he wants to change the injustice of the occupation of his homeland, but with feeling anger or hatred towards the occupiers.

As John Lydon once sang, anger is an energy. Where that energy comes from and what you do with it is important. “Anger” in an of itself is not the problem.

Ecological awareness

Thus the point I am making in all these essays is that civilised people, whether Western or Eastern, need to be liberated and dehypnotized from their systems of symbolism and, thereby, become more intensely aware of the living vibrations of the real world. For lack of such awareness our consciousnesses and consciences have become calloused to the daily atrocities of burning children with napalm, of saturation bombing of fertile earth with all its plants, wild animals, and insects (not to mention people), and of manufacturing nuclear and chemical weapons concerning which the real problem is not so much how to prevent their use as how to get them off the face of the earth.

We need to become vividly aware of our ecology, of our interdependence and virtual identity with all other forms of life which the divisive and embossing methods of our current way of thought prevent us from experiencing. The so-called physical world and the so-called human body are a single process, differentiated only as the heart from the lungs or the head from the feet. In stodgy academic circles I refer to this kind of understanding as “ecological awareness.” Elsewhere it would be called “cosmic consciousness” or “mystical experience.” However, our intellectual and scientific “establishment” is, in general, still spellbound by the myth that human intelligence and feeling are a fluke of chance in an entirely mechanical and stupid universe–as if figs would grow on thistles or grapes on thorns. But wouldn’t it be more reasonable to see the entire scheme of things as continuous with our own consciousness and the marvellous neural organisation which, shall we say, sponsors it?

Metaphysical as such considerations may be, it seems to me that their issues are earthy and practical. For our radically mis-named “materialistic” civilisation must above all cultivate love of material, of earth, air, and water, of mountains and forests, of excellent food and imaginative housing and clothing, and of cherishing our artfully erotic contacts between human bodies. Certainly, all these so-called “things” are as impermanent as ripples in water, but what life, what love, what energy is there in a perfectly pure abstraction or a totally solid and eternally indestructible rock?

Alan Watts – Does It Matter?