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Aparigraha and Giving Thanks

It’s that time of year again as millions of Americans prepare their annual Thanksgiving feasts. Some may be preparing physically for a day of gluttony, others may be bracing themselves for a day of family bonding (or dare I say dysfunction); whatever the case, practicing greedlessness (aparigraha) may be the furthest thing from many turkey-goers minds.

Don’t mistake this as an evangelical post about veganism or a rant about what you should or shouldn’t eat on Thanksgiving of any other day of the year. I have no intention of adding to the well- versed subject of yoga and vegetarianism, of which one can find an abundance or source material. I only have my personal story that may offer a different perspective on the same subject.

For many years, I practiced veganism. I practiced this way of eating and living with the said intention of doing the least harm possible to others and out of compassion for the mother earth (ahimsa-nonharming). Over time, I revisited the purpose behind my choices and came to realize that many of my decisions were not made from a purely selfless place, but rather, somewhere along the way, guilt and ego also entered into the equation. I thought that if I ate and lived in this way, I would in time become perpetually happy and free, or ‘enlightened’, as my teachers put it. In a sense, I practiced a compassionate lifestyle for partially selfish reasons. Over time, I noticed myself not feeling balanced physically, and in some intrinsic way I knew this was in part as a result of my diet.

In addition to the imbalances in my physical body, I also became increasingly aware of the dogmatic attitude I had adopted towards others who did not think and act like me. I asked myself the question when confronted by feelings of frustration or disgust by the consumption of others, ‘is this yoga’? I observed other yoga teachers who labelled themselves as vegans exhibiting odd behaviour such as hiding their leather shoes in a locker before class. I opened my eyes wider still, revealing a strange paradox of yogis on a quest to rid themselves of ego, yet pre-occupied with their titles as a vegan or vegetarian. Many wore leather and ate animal products, some even doing so in secret; others engaged in other aspects of harming others whether it was tattooing their bodies (tattoo ink is made, after all, with dead animal bone), or flying thousands of miles to participate in some activity furthering their non-harming path. I reached a point that it was time for me to reassess my judging and opinion-making of others, and in a wider sense, to reform my own behaviour and perception of self.

Today, my practice is to do the best I can at practicing a plant based diet yet not labelling myself or others whatever life choices are made. I have also come to realise that if I myself am unhealthy in body or mind I won’t be able to participate in life from a energy-positive place. I spent many years at the Thanksgiving table making a statement to my estranged family by not consuming the bird who lost its life to become the centrepiece, but also not fully engaging in the event of being grateful from a place of pure love and compassion. In retrospect, I may have connected more with the people at the table and been more joyful in my own skin if I had met my family and hosts halfway, having a very small piece of the turkey in gratitude of the work done in preparing the meal and in gratitude of the bird who offered their life for the dinner.

I have learned time and time again that the more I think I know the less awareness I have, and and the more I take, the less I really need. Food for thought? Maybe, or maybe it’s just me wiping my own plate clean. In either case, its the intention behind the action that counts. In humble gratitude to all of life, Happy Thanksgiving.

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