One of the critical factors in working for social change is developing the ability to embody the change we would like to see in the outer world. This has been clearly recognized and articulated by many spiritual teachers and social activists such as the Buddha, Jesus, Gandhi, Thoreau, M.L. King, and A.J. Muste, whose famous dictum, “There is no way to peace; peace is the way” points directly to the heart of this teaching.
It is becoming increasingly well understood, fortunately, that our culture’s routine and relentless violence toward animals for food, products, and other uses requires us as consumers to be disconnected from our inherent wisdom and compassion, and from our natural intelligence, which is the ability to make meaningful connections and respond appropriately to feedback. As I discuss in The World Peace Diet, the food rituals in any culture are enormously powerful indoctrination forces, and through them, our culture injects a toxic mentality of elitism, reductionism, disconnectedness, might-makes-right, and suppression of the feminine into all of us.
One of the primary unrecognized effects of this cultural programming is the lowering of our natural self-esteem, and the repression of the inherent sense that we’re part of a benevolent and celebratory universe. Through being forced as children not just to witness adults around us eating the flesh and secretions of imprisoned, terrified animals, but also being forced routinely to eat these substances ourselves, our spiritual connection with joy, freedom, creativity, beauty, and compassion has been unconsciously repressed. Due to our resulting insecurity and fear, we become easily manipulated and exploited as consumers and workers in a system that maximizes wealth and privilege for a tiny elite, and devastates not just the outer ecological and cultural landscape of our Earth, but the inner landscape of our emotional and spiritual lives. We become merely ironic in our quests, and trade the joy and freedom of authentic inner peace for the dull numbness of comfort and security.
The key to transforming our lives and our culture is our moods. How do we feel? Really? What is our general mood or feeling-tone throughout the day? How does it change? What triggers it to change? I have found it to be helpful to be mindful of my moods, and their subtle transformations throughout the day. I’ve also found that mood is remarkably responsive to thoughts and conscious intent. For this reason, many wise spiritual teachers have emphasized the importance of cultivating mental awareness, and engendering inner states of lovingkindness, compassion, joy, gratitude, and equanimity that are independent of whatever outer situations we may be dealing with. With practice and increased skill and understanding, we can learn to be less at the effect of outer stimulation, and abide more in our heart in peace and with a sense of lovingkindness for others, no matter what may be happening. Needless to say, there are abundant opportunities to practice.
The basic situation is that we have all been born into a culture that suppresses our natural joy, creativity, and compassion, and that in many ways brings out the worst in us, primarily through forcing us to eat animal-sourced foods, and secondarily through the cultural institutions that this violent and numbing eating behavior necessitates and evolves. Some examples of these secondary institutions are the reductionist and authoritarian educational, religious, economic, and medical-pharmaceutical institutions that are virtually inescapable. As newborn babies, we are violently separated from our mothers and assaulted with toxic vaccinations and chemical-laden environments, and as we grow older, we’re subjected to violent foods and TV programming, and an educational system that strips away our natural curiosity and replaces it with fear of making mistakes. This pattern is repeated in religious and corporate environments, and all the while, we are assaulted with media images of crime, disease, and war that are disempowering and negative in the extreme, with the unfortunate result that sales of “mood-enhancing” drugs are enriching pharmaceutical corporations who employ armies of personnel to control both the political institutions and the media images we receive. So we internalize this negativity in many ways, and when our minds are frustrated or depressed, and our energy depleted, we become the pliable and gullible consumers who reliably buy the products and the official stories supplied by the corporate system.