I’m a Vegan, But…

vegan-iconI’m a vegan, but I don’t see you as “less than” if you aren’t.

I’m a vegan, but I don’t dislike food.

I’m a vegan, but I do eat things that aren’t particularly healthy.

I’m a vegan, but I don’t always shop at Whole Foods or Wegmans.

I’m a vegan, but I’ve raised omnivore, vegetarian, and vegan children.

I’m a vegan, but I don’t have a weak body.

I’m a vegan, but I can eat at the same table with an omnivore.

I’m a vegan, but I won’t comment on your food when you are eating.

I’m a vegan, but I don’t make a big fuss about what is served at meals I attend.

I’m a vegan, but I like pie, nachos, cake, potato chips, and even pudding.

I’m a vegan, but I understand the reasons for sustenance hunting.

I’m a vegan, but I can still compliment you on your pretty wool tweed jacket.

I’m a vegan, but I’m not sitting in silent judgment of you all the time.

I’m a vegan, but I don’t feel the need to announce it when not directly applicable.

I’m a vegan, but have no dietary vitamin deficiencies.

I’m a vegan, but I will cook for omnivores as needed.

I’m a vegan, but I can still love you if you aren’t.

I’m a vegan.

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Home Remodeling as a Metaphor for Life

You’ve probably picked up on the fact that there has been a lot of remodeling going on at The VeganAsana house lately. We have had both bathrooms redone (picture post re the second one to come soon); painting was done in the kitchen/hall/stairwell; some repairs were made to walls and ceiling in the office, a bedroom, and living room; and the yard was landscaped. As we were working on some of our tasks over the weekend, it occurred to me how much these “creating a home” tasks are like the whole rest of creating a life. I guess that’s not surprising, as all systems share characteristics, but it struck me strongly.

All is imperfect. I find myself often wanting these home remodeling tasks to result in perfection. I want the tiles to be perfect, the paint to be without a streak or a run, the colors to match precisely, the plants to all look green and luscious. Yet, like in all of life, there is no “perfection” in that sense. Some of the plants haven’t done well in the heat, there are spots on the wall where paint clumped or ran, the tiles on this corner of the shower wall weren’t set the same way as the tiles on that corner, there is a scuff on the marble window sill. All of this can drive me to near distraction if I let it.

Gregory Bateson characterized humans as being “rotten with perfection.” Our seeking of perfection in self and other, in things and beings, can lead to pain both personal and global. The drive for perfection can create impossible standards for appearance, behavior, relationships, and abilities. If the ultimate desire for anything is total perfection, nothing will ever reach it. We will constantly be critiquing our relationships, berating ourselves, touching up the paint on the ceiling, or worrying about the grout. The attachment to the idea of the “perfect _____” must be released for our own good and the good of others.

The imperfect can still be just right. During the unfolding of all of these processes, I’ve had to (often with the urging of Mr. VeganAsana) to let go of my fretting about things being exactly so. For example, in the downstairs bathroom the closet door became an issue for a while. It had three hinges before the renovation, but when it was put back only two were replaced, and the opening for the third hinge was filled in. We scraped/chiseled out the fill and tried to replace the hinge, but it no longer set properly and immediately began to separate from the wall, pulling the upper hinge with it. In my worry about it being perfect, I initially thought we would need to replace the entire door, which would have meant a custom door due to the size, and some wait time. So, for the interim, I filled and painted the hinge spaces on both the door and the frame. Weeks later, the “imperfect” door seems just fine.

Worry is suffering over what has not happened yet, and may never happen. Oh, the worrying. I have fretted myself and everyone around me into misery more than once during all of this. On one occasion, I spent an entire night awake worrying about how to approach the contractor regarding some tiles that were incorrectly placed. I created so many scenarios in my head where he didn’t take the news well and it wasn’t good for our working relationship. The next morning, when I broached the topic, he immediately saw the problem, apologized, and started planning the fix. Ten hours of worry for a ten minute conversation; it wasn’t worth it. How many times in a week, in a day, do we do this? It sucks so much energy away from the now to be fussing over what may never occur.

Plan, and then let it go. In home repair and remodeling, as with most things in life, it’s good to have a plan. Without one, it can be even more difficult to get things done. We’ve found ourselves “stuck” a few times in getting this stuff done until we came up with a plan for how to proceed. Even things like bathroom storage require some strategy. But, once the plan is created, it’s important to be willing to let it go. We had planned a towel bar in one bathroom. After it pulled out of the wall, we were in a pickle regarding how to proceed. For now, we’ve decided to let go of that plan and just patched the wall and painted. We had planned a certain glossiness of tile and didn’t get it in one bathroom. Short of having all the tile ripped out, we needed to let it go. In the initial landscaping, there were two more trees than there are now. They didn’t make it. Let it go. Letting go of expectations is an ability that crosses all life domains.

Letting go is a process. As I’ve said in prior posts, I’m not always the best at letting go of things. I try, but it can be a struggle. Across these events, I’ve had to make peace with the fact that it’s not easy for me to let go, and to realize that I can’t do it all at once. It has to happen in bits and pieces. The aforementioned difference in the two corners of the shower tile is bothering me, I cannot deny. I have a preference for one of the two styles, but I would have been ok with either – as long as they matched. But, they don’t. And since we didn’t catch it until after the tiling, grouting, and first round of painting was done, it seems sort of silly to mess with it now, particularly since one of the corners will be bisected by the shower door anyway. However, I’m struggling with letting it go. For now, I’m just trying not to look at it, and that’s the best I can do.

Even somewhat unpleasant tasks can be done with sthira (steadiness) and sukha (ease). I don’t know anyone who loves all the parts of doing home “stuff.” I certainly don’t. Cleaning, sanding, priming, painting – all for ceilings and walls; buying organizational materials and organizing; researching and selecting fixtures – it can all be annoying at times. But, if I try to stay relaxed and just work calmly and steadily, it’s much better. Every time I try to rush through, or i let my annoyance and anxiety bubble up, it all becomes much more unpleasant. This isn’t just psychological. When I do that, I get less mindful, and then problems (dripped paint, dropped brushes, broken outlet covers) start to happen, which cause the task to take longer and be more unpleasant.

They are all good life lessons, in addition to leading to some pretty rooms (and a nice lawn, though I can take no credit at all for that). And that’s how our home repairs and remodels have become part of my yoga in the summer of 2012.

Accept Yourself and Be Beautiful

To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself. When you are born a lotus flower, be a beautiful lotus flower, don’t try to be a magnolia flower. If you crave acceptance and recognition and try to change yourself to fit what other people want you to be, you will suffer all your life. True happiness and true power lie in understanding yourself, accepting yourself, having confidence in yourself.

~ Thich Nhat Hanh, The Art of Power

When I was a child, my mother used to go through these “fits of interest” in a particular activity.  She would get interested in something, say leather work or model ship building or jigsaw puzzles or studying Japan, and it would take over her life.  Soon, we would have a room (or the dining room table) completely devoted to the activity, and have spent much money buying supplies and equipment needed for it.  Sometimes, she would insist that we all got involved – the jigsaw puzzles stand out here – and everyone would have to become a part of the process.  All of her time would be spent in pursuit of this activity, and it could go on for months, even a year or more.  Then, as suddenly as it began, it was over.  The equipment would get dusty from disuse, the books cast aside, items partially finished would linger on the counter, and eventually the next big thing would take over and the prior project would be cleared away to make way for the new one.

I never really understood what was going on with my mother.  She was good at these things she did, and she would get even better in the course of a certain obsession.  But, I was baffled at how deeply she became involved and how much of her (time, money, self) it consumed.  Now, as an adult, I think I get it.  She just wanted to be the best at something, or everything.  She was looking for that accomplishment that would make her “good.”

It’s so hard, for many of us, to be ok with who we are.  I’m no exception to this.  I can talk a good (excellent – HA!) game about equanimity and detachment and acceptance and asmita (egoism), but I have a very hard time really letting go of my urge to be better than I am.  This has revealed itself in so many ways in my life.  Dieting led to eating disorders for me, in a never ending quest to be thinner and better by giving in to the urges of the body less.  In my career, each accomplishment only causes me to think about what the next goal should be.  When I had my children, each childbirth experience was somehow flawed by my failings, and I would be determined that the next would be better.  If I start drawing or painting again, my first thought is that I’m not very good and I need to figure out how to improve.  My yoga mentor, Beth, would probably even tell you that my head leads all through my asana practice.  Oy.

I wish I knew what this was all about.  Why is it so hard to accept ourselves and be beautiful?  Is it all cultural, what we learned from growing up in societies that stress the value of success?  Is it part of our nature as a human animal?  Are we naturally programmed to be in competition with one another like lions compete for control of the pride?  Is it a little of each?  I don’t know.  But, I do know it’s a challenge for most of us, and likely one that is life long.

Maybe, the key is to try to accept the self in the now.  In this moment, be ok with who we are and be beautiful as we are.  Maybe tomorrow we’ll be back on the roller coaster of accomplishment and self-criticism.  But, if in this one instant we can be all right with exactly what we are now – all right with the wrinkles by the eyes, the belly that isn’t a sixpack (but could hold a sixpack), the singing voice that only has a range of 3 notes – all of it – we can really allow ourselves to be beautiful in the now.  And, maybe those moments of now will build up over time and make it all a little bit more possible.