Friday, September 15, 2017

A Plea for the Animals

I recently finished reading the book A Plea For The Animals by Matthieu Ricard.  He is a French born Buddhist monk that lives in a monastery in Nepal.  His book is, just as the title says, a plea for the animals.  He talks about the many ways the animal industry harms the environment and harms our health but the focus of the book is how animals are inherently worthy of compassion and decency.

He writes at length about how animals are treated in order to provide for our present day mass consumption of meat.   In the rich countries 80-90 percent of the animals we eat are produced in industrial breeding operations.  We kill approximately 60 billion land animals a year and a thousand billion aquatic animals a year for our use.  And the suffering that is involved in this is immense.  These animals most often, with few exceptions, are living terrible lives and have terrible endings.
Calves are torn from their mothers just after birth, chicken's beaks are chopped off without anesthesia to prevent them from pecking each other to death in their craze induced cramped quarters and pigs, likewise, have their tails cut off for similar reasons as they live their lives in small metal boxes.  This is heartbreaking and hard to write and to read.  And that was just once sentence.  There are pages that could be filled with descriptions of the suffering. There are photos and movies.  We don't want to see it.  We don't want to know about it.  We just want to live like it doesn't happen.  But it does.

Horrible things are happening to people too.  I know this and my compassion is not like a pie that can only be divided among 8 slices and then there is no more.  Just because I care about animals doesn't mean I don't care about human suffering too.  Probably the suffering of humans is more important that that of animals.  Certainly, I believe, the life of a human is more valuable than the life of an animal.  If I am on a cliffside road and a rabbit jumps in front of my car and if I swerve the people in my car die then I am going to hit that rabbit.  But if I have a safe choice then I will swerve.

Not eating animals is such an easy way to significantly lessen the suffering of these fellow earth beings.  It isn't hard at all.  I wish there was such an easy way to lessen the suffering of humans.

One of my favorite parts of this book is the descriptions of animal's intelligence and compassion.  Macaques use human hair as dental floss and when the mother macaques use the floss in front of their offspring they do it longer and slower, evidently, teaching them how to floss.  Chimpanzees,by drumming on trees, tell other chimps where they are, what direction they're going and when they are stopping to rest.  Elephants recognize music melodies and remember them for years.  Crows can judge if other crows know where they have hidden food and if the crow believes his food is well hidden he takes his time in getting it and if not then he rushes to retrieve it.  He makes judgements!  These examples go on and on, including ones of animals showing care to other animals.  Animals feel pain, yes, but they also feel joy and compassion.

We don't want to see.  But imagine if a dog was treated like a pig.  Pigs are just as intelligent if not more so than dogs.  They are loving and playful.  Imagine, if like pigs, dogs were crammed in small cages, abused and killed by the millions.  Would you protest?  Would the taste of that dog bacon be worth it?

I am not perfect.  I don't blame people.  We don't want to see this.  Of course, slaughter houses and egg production facilities and pig houses etc are behind walls, blinded to the outsider.  It is illegal to even show what happens and most people don't want to look.

It's not just the animals that suffer.  The workers at these plants suffer immensely and take these jobs as a last resort.  Like the animals, their voices are not heard either.

We all suffer.  It is too much to look at this.  It hurts too much.  I just don't want to know about it and I want to go along like before.  But the suffering... it continues.   How can I ignore it?  How can we ignore it?

From the Metta Sutta, The Buddha's words on Loving Kindness:
Whatever living beings there may be;
Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born and to-be-born,
May all beings be at ease!

To See and To Love is the name of my blog.  I see what is happening and love in my heart is the answer.  I will love, no matter what I will love.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

In the seventh century, a Zen Patriarch said that to live without anxiety about non-perfection is the key to happiness. I find it enlightening that people were dealing with the same issues in the seventh century as we are now and the statement itself is profound.

How often do we worry about our imperfections?  It is what most of our negative self talk is about.  When I look in the mirror I sometimes think I look beautiful but often I see my wrinkles, my blemishes, the pouch on my belly or other faults and I think if only...  If only I was thinner or younger. But then what?

And we aren't comfortable with our imperfections in so many ways. At work, we may feel we don't measure up. Or as a parent, we may feel we are not patient enough.  As a friend, we may feel we don't fit in.

In the book, Awakening Joy by James Baraz,  he writes that Abraham Maslow, the famed psychologist, states that beyond the need for the basic necessities of food and shelter our number one priority is to feel that we belong.  I think the feeling of belonging and the acceptance of our imperfections go hand in hand. It is hard to have one without the other.  And if Maslow is right that the feeling of belonging is a prime necessity than it follows that we need to learn to love ourself.

Forgiving ourself for not being perfect or not living up to some standard that we ingrained into our psyche is a key to letting ourself be authentic. It is only when we can love our true self, faults and all, that we can feel we belong in our family, our work life,  our friendships and the world at large.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Seeing by listening

A few months ago I was seeing a patient for the first time in my office.  She had on a traditional religious clothing item and she confided to me that she was waiting for marriage before having sex.  She was in her mid to late twenties.  From these pieces of information I, regrettably, made a judgement that she was naive and perhaps uninformed on sexuality issues.  It can be tricky in these situations.  You don't want to assume people know more or less than they do because either way can be harmful to the patient-doctor relationship and therefore to helping the patient.  But I must have insulted her because she came out and told me she wasn't uneducated or stupid because of her religion or background and I shouldn't assume so.   I was flabbergasted, really.  I couldn't help but laugh out loud and apologize too.  I was amazed by her confidence and power in setting me straight.  Needless to say I haven't seen her again.  I am sorry for that.  But I did learn a powerful lesson from her.

The other day I read this in Karen Armstrong's book, Twelve steps to a Compassionate Life; "we may find that if instead of retreating from the stranger and rejecting his insights out of hand, we allow him to change our perceptions, our understanding of our own traditions may be enriched by the encounter and we too may have moments of numinous insight."

On Facebook, I saw a video by an African American woman who declined to attend the Women's March because it didn't feel inclusive to her and her issues.  I can't fully verbalize what her feelings and thoughts were but she moved me to try to understand and to try to listen to other points of view.

And lastly a few weeks back I was in the doctor's lounge at Palomar Hospital.  The TV in the lounge is almost always playing Fox News.  ( the TV in the nurses lounge is never on Fox, by the way).  Anyway, for months it has bugged me but I have never said anything.  This time I did.  "Excuse me" I said, " but why do we always have to have Fox on?  I don't put on MSNBC, couldn't we try CNN or maybe sports?"  The other doctors were agreeable and we changed the channel.  We then went on to have a conversation about politics that was civil and non-threatening. And now, Fox is still often on but occasionally it's not.  

All of these situations illustrate a few things.  First of all, it is powerful to listen.  And it is a lot easier to listen when your viewpoints are not held so closely that it threatens who you are to talk about them or to explore them.  It used to make my heart pound when I talked about what I thought was right or true.  But now, somehow, that has lessened.  I was once afraid to speak up but now I am much less so.  I can't be proven wrong or shamed because I feel right in my heart and am open to hear the other side or many other sides.  If I can see another way that is better, great, and if I find my way is still best, then that is okay too.  

Secondly, I have a lot to learn.  I am seeing that I have biases and prejudices that I didn't realize.  We all do, all of us.  But just as they are learned so can we unlearn them.  That young woman in my office taught me that.  The woman in the FB video showed me too.  I remember as I watched that video my defenses started to rise. That's not me... but then I listened and learned.

The title of my blog is To See and To Love.  I can't tell you how often I think of those words.  We need to see what is happening.  And we can't see it if we are blinded by biases or closed off by fear.  

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Thoughts on a Rainy Day

A while back I read a quote that said "I am the mountain, not the weather".  It has stuck with me for months.  I repeat it often in my head when I feel overwhelmed with all the feelings and emotions that swirl around me.

I googled the quote and all I could find is a reference to a Christian scholar named Martin Laird.  So, perhaps he said it first.  I don't know and it doesn't really matter.

I imagine the mountain with all the weather that can hit it: storms that blow with lightening and thunder, rain, snow and then suddenly bright blue sunny skies.  It can all happen so fast or then at times it can be dark for days.  But there the mountain sits.  And yes it may be affected a bit by the weather, a rock or two may fall, but essentially it remains the same.  It is what it is despite all that is thrown at it.

I have sat on my cushion meditating and chanting, I am the mountain, not the weather.  It feels good.  So much of spirituality is just remembering.  It helps to meditate just to remember what is true.

I may be feeling sad or upset or even super happy and then my mind interrupts that with a thought of how much I'd like to have a vegan BLT.  One Buddhist teacher, Joseph Goldstein, comments that our minds have no shame.  One minute they can be thinking a profound thought and then the next minute something completely mundane.

Just as the weather changes so do our feelings.  But we are not those feelings.  They are something that goes on around us, they come and go.  And when we are immersed in them it is immensely helpful to remember that they are dynamic.  The sun will shine again.  But, of course, the opposite is true too.

We are the mountain.  Which is not to say we are permanent or even solid.  I think the importance of the metaphor is that we are not the weather.