Many people assume I went vegetarian and then vegan because I care about animals. That’s a common perception, but as I’ve mentioned before, it isn’t the truth. The truth is essentially the opposite. My compassion for animals developed only after I made these dietary changes.
Going vegetarian in 1993 and then vegan in 1997 both started as 30-day trials for me. I mainly did them out of curiosity. I maintained those changes because of the mental and physical gains, especially the mental gains.
Developing Compassion for Animals
Somewhere along this path of dietary refinement, I noticed that I started feeling more compassionately toward animals. I don’t have any pets, but I felt increasingly more connected to animals with each passing year.
A few years ago, I stopped buying leather products like belts and shoes. I bought alternative products from Vegan Essentials instead. They were a little more expensive, but I could no longer justify buying products that contributed to animal suffering. To my surprise I noticed that those products actually saved me money because they’re a lot more durable. My cruelty-free running shoes that have held up well for years — I can’t believe they’re still in good shape. Such shoes used to last me about six months, twelve if I pushed it.
It’s hard to avoid contributing to animal cruelty completely because it’s so tightly integrated into modern society. I’ve heard that even the crates used to ship fruits and veggies use glue made from animals. Personal care products like shampoo and soap typically include animal-derived products. Lately I’ve been favoring products from cruelty-free sources. You do the best you can. Improvement is always possible; perfection is not.
Now that I’m a raw foodist, I seem to be in the midst of another shift in my compassion for living creatures. I really didn’t expect this. This time it’s much stronger.
Now I’m starting to feel the same way about insects that I feel about animals.
When I was a kid, I never considered insects to be worthy of much consideration. They were like mindless little robots. I was a god compared to them, so of course I could treat them however I wanted. They were insignificant. At least that’s what I learned from other people.
When I was around ten years old, I used to take a magnifying glass to my backyard and fry ants with sunlight just for fun. I thought it was cool when they popped and smoked. I never felt any sympathy for them.
At a younger age, I used to collect bugs and put them in jars — something I learned from a neighborhood kid. I had a collection of bug jars in my room. When one of the bugs died, I could always find more to replace it. They were simply there for my amusement.
As I became an adult, if I ever found bugs in my home, I’d kill them of course. I’d squash them or spray them. They were a nuisance, and killing them was the most practical way to deal with them.
Sensing a Shift
Several years ago Erin and I lived in an area that was infested with crickets (Canoga Park, California). If you walked around our neighborhood at night, you’d hear them everywhere. I was always spraying around the house to keep them out, and I often squashed them when they got inside.
Someone told us that in Asia, crickets are considered good luck, especially in China. I don’t know if they really are good luck, but we did fairly well financially while we lived in that house before moving to Vegas in 2004.
During that time I was doing a lot of meditation and journaling to try to become more conscious and aware. At some point I worked on deepening my sense of connectedness to other living creatures. I tried to mentally connect with the crickets, and I asked them to stop chirping so loudly at night. To my surprise they actually did. I could walk outside and hear crickets all around the neighborhood, but our house was strangely quiet. I repeated the experiment again a few weeks later, and once again it worked. However, I didn’t have a belief system that could really handle this. It was a little too much for me, so I couldn’t bring myself to pursue it further. I stopped those experiments and returned to using bug spray. I wasn’t ready to make that kind of leap.
I soon talked to an old friend who’d also gone vegan, and he told me he stopped killing bugs entirely. I could respect his choice, but it seemed way too extreme and impractical. “What do you do if ants attack your pantry?” I asked. He said he’d make a trail of sugar or some other sweetener to lead them back outside, and eventually they would leave. But he wouldn’t kill them. I was impressed by his ethics, but I didn’t think I could live up to that standard myself.
For the next several years, I felt internally conflicted about killing bugs. I would still kill them when I saw them, but I also felt a strange connection to them.
Head vs. Heart
Shortly after I became a raw foodist, these feelings were greatly amplified. Raw foodists often speak about how the volume on your emotions gets turned up massively when you go raw. Believe me — they aren’t kidding! Emotional feedback that was once extremely subtle becomes much louder and clearer, so it’s harder to tune out. You have to start processing it. I think this is one reason why many people experience major shifts in their career, relationships, and spiritual life after going raw.
I noticed that when I killed bugs earlier this year, like if squashed a cockroach I found in my living room — cockroaches are very common in Vegas — I’d feel a knot in my stomach. My mind told me that killing bugs was still the proper course of action, but my heart was screaming louder and louder, “This is wrong, wrong, wrong!”
Every once in a while, I would let one go. At first I tried to justify it with a mental excuse: I’m feeling lazy right now. It’s just a small bug. It will probably find it’s way outside. It isn’t near the kitchen. Someone else will probably kill it later. My emotions were beginning to make inroads into my thoughts.
My feeling of connectedness to insects gradually increased over a period of several weeks. I’d still kill bugs if the family spotted one and asked me to take care of it. But I reached a point where I stopped killing bugs altogether if I was alone. One time I saw a spider in my office bathroom, a room that no one uses but me, and I said to the spider, “Don’t be afraid, little spider. I will not harm you. You are safe here.” I began thinking of the spider as my little pet.
I began processing these emotions consciously, updating my attitude towards insects. I concluded they were just as worthy of existence as myself. I justified that it won’t harm me to have a few bugs around my house. I finally realized there was no pressing need to kill them. I broke through the social conditioning from my youth, and I reconnected with my true feelings.
Eventually I couldn’t bring myself to kill bugs even around my family. Recently I overheard our housekeeper commenting to Erin that she’s been noticing a lot more bugs around the house. I chuckled to myself — that’s because I’ve stopped killing them! I haven’t sprayed around the house in a long time.
Now I’m even starting to discourage the rest of my family from killing bugs. They don’t seem to feel the same way I do — Erin in particular has a fear of certain bugs — but I’ve been encouraging them to think of the bugs as our little pets.
At this very moment, a little spider is rappelling down my window. I said to him, “Hello, little spider. I hope you have a beautiful day today.” I think of him as my little friend. I could not even consider ending his life. I feel good knowing that he is safe around me. I like that he can go on about his day inside my home office without fear of violence. Maybe he even can sense my feelings toward him on some level. I am happy to see him spin his webs on my windows and live out his life.
Obviously I may hurt bugs by accident as I go on about my day, but even when I walk on the sidewalk now, I do my best to watch out for them and avoid stepping on them. To the degree I can make this choice consciously, I choose not to harm them.
Chapter 4 in my book is about the principle of oneness, which is the combination of truth and love. As I noted in the book, this has been a challenging principle for me to follow, but I feel like I’ve come much more into alignment with it during the past several weeks. Learning to see all life as sacred, not just our fellow human beings, has been a huge part of it.
I have to ask myself how a dietary shift could have caused this change in my thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. I think the truth is that those feelings were there all along, but they were buried beneath an overload of toxins in my body. As I purified my diet, these emotional signals became louder and clearer. I could no longer dismiss them as background noise.
The awakening of my compassion for insects is just one change among many. I also feel much more connected to other people, and I feel more centered in my life purpose than ever before. This feeling of connectedness has motivated me to reach out and connect more. For starters I created a Twitter page, so I can share small bits of info even when I don’t have time to write a full blog entry. I’ve shared 224 updates there so far. I also joined Facebook and accepted more than 1,000 friend requests in the first week. I didn’t do these things for business or marketing reasons. I did them because I naturally felt more connected to people, and these actions arose naturally from that feeling.
It’s like I’m finally discovering what it’s like to feel human — maybe for the first time in my life. All those years I was eating cooked and processed food, I never knew what I was missing. The intuitive and emotional signals were too subtle for me to process. The cells of my body weren’t working the way they were designed to work because they didn’t have the right fuel. I drugged myself with food to numb my emotions because I wasn’t ready to deal with the consequences.
These shifts make it really hard to justify returning to cooked food. That would feel like taking a prescription that made me feel numb all the time. I feel like I’d lose myself if I went back. It’s not easy dealing with these “raw emotions,” but I shudder at the thought of losing what I’ve gained from them. I’m sure I have a lot more processing to do, but I think I’ve finally reached the point along my path of growth where I’m ready to handle it.
I’ll bet that even if you choose to kill bugs or contribute to animal cruelty, you still harbor a sense of compassion for all living beings. Some part of you signals that it doesn’t feel right to cage them, inject them with chemicals, and kill them just to satiate your taste buds. But that signal may be so subtle that you tune it out. You disconnect from your heart and remain stuck in your head, where it’s easier to justify your actions.
What you may not realize is that you cannot disconnect from your heart in a targeted fashion. It’s more of an all-or-nothing mechanism. When you tune out from some of the signals, you disconnect yourself from all things emotional and intuitive, including your sense of connection to other people, your certainty about your life purpose, and your ability to be joyful and happy. When you disconnect from your heart, including the signals it sends about the smallest of creatures, you invariably suffer for it. You become a little less human.
When you see a horse up close, I’ll bet some part of you feels a sense of connection to her. On some level you must be able to tap into your awareness that you are not superior to her. You are both equally valid and beautiful expressions of consciousness. To reduce that beautiful animal to a mere beast is to become a beast yourself.
I want to add that I’m not judging you in any way. I’m just sharing what I’m experiencing. It’s up to you to decide if this holds any truth for you. It’s perfectly okay to see what’s coming up for you and not feel ready for it. I spent many years there. Just begin to listen to the emotional signals that do arise in your life, no matter how subtle, and observe how you deal with this. Do you tune in to them and consciously process them, or do you turn your back on them and try to drown them with food, entertainment, or other distractions? Do you consciously manage your emotional life, or are you unconsciously victimized by it?
Maybe the reason there are so many insects on this planet is because we have so much to learn from them. Perhaps they keep arising in our lives because we haven’t been very good listeners.
My spider friend seems to be staring at me intently. I wonder what he’s thinking…