short story

A few years ago, I walked into a restaurant during Hudson Valley Restaurant Week, and immediately discovered that I was slightly underdressed.  Uncomfortable with this realization, I told myself “Well, if they kick me out, I’m going to proclaim in a loud and haughty voice that I’ve been kicked out of nicer places than this.”

Then I remembered that actually, I had been kicked out of nicer places than that.

Lesson learned:  It’s a wonderful feeling when you realize that the person you pretend to be when you need to muster up your courage is, in fact, you.

ahimsa

“Fools rush in where angels fear to tread…” thus do I enter into the thorny issue of yoga and vegetarianism.

There was an interesting article in the New York Times recently about yoga and food, and how some studios and restauranteurs are bringing them together in surprising (and somewhat icky – who wants to use their sweaty, nasty yoga mat as a place setting for an after class meal?) ways. This, of course, raises the question of what sorts of foods are fit for us yogis to eat. Patañjali’s Yoga Sutras list ahimsa as the first part of the first limb of yoga – he is clearly making a statement of importance here by listing it right up front. Usually, we translate ahimsa as non-violence; not hurting each other. For a lot of yogis, this means adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet. The reasoning, I believe, is as follows: If I’m committed to not hurting other people, why would I be willing to benefit from the death of other animals? Especially when it is certainly possible to survive without consuming any animal products?
Well… I’m not completely sold on the idea, and my basic argument against it boils down to, ironically perhaps, my appreciation of the incredible complexity of life. How do we draw the line between what we can (ethically) eat and what we can’t? Is it a simple division based on kingdom? If so, then why are animals more important than plants, or fungi, or protozoa for that matter? We all started from the same biological miracle; we all have 4.5 billion years of evolution behind us. It’s not as if we can pretend that non-animal life is less advanced or more primitive than animals are, and therefore less worthy of survival on an individual basis. We all, essentially, share the same birthday and are growing old together.
It’s a fundamental truth that animals need to feed on other life. If we live on plants, we’re still eating something that once lived and was killed for our benefit. Something needs to die in order for me to live. This can’t be avoided.
When I think about the idea that the only ethical diet is a vegetarian or vegan diet, it also brings to mind the diets and lifestyles of other cultures. Traditionally, the Inuit lived on a diet that consisted exclusively of animal products. They did so because these were the resources available to them – in the far North, there are no edible plants. There are birds, there are sea mammals, there are polar bears, there are caribou, and that’s about it. Does this make the traditional Inuit diet unethical? No, and I don’t think anyone would claim that it does. Let’s progress into murkier territory, then – other foods are now available to many in the far north, foods that have been grown and processed in the south and flown to the Arctic at great expense. Now, does this recent availability of plant based foods make contemporary adherence to the traditional Inuit diet unethical? Is it wrong for the Inuit (or anyway, those among them who can afford the imported foods) to continue to adhere to their traditional diet when other options are now available? I’d argue that the answer to this question is also No; to answer it otherwise would be to suggest an inherent inferiority of the traditional Inuit culture, which is ridiculous. To suggest the superiority of one’s own culture or belief system is paternalistic at best, patronizing at worst.
A lot of the argument around vegetarian/vegan diets for yogis strikes me this way – paternalistic. Why should I let someone else decide for me what ahimsa means? Isn’t it my own responsibility to make peace with my decisions and with the world? Isn’t that part of svadhyaya, self-study, which is also listed in Patañjali’s eight limbs of yoga? I did not become involved with yoga to become pious and superior, nor to kowtow to those who are. I’m involved in this practice because it helps me find meaning and beauty in the world.
Is it possible to practice ahimsa as an omnivore? Is it possible to eat meat and practice non-violence? I think this question is far more nuanced and complex than many in the yoga community admit. The answer cannot be reduced to a simple yes or no.
Ugh… this post definitely needs more editing, but frankly I’m tired of working on it. These ideas have been on my mind for a long, long time, and I will probably return to them at some point in the future.
As always, comments are welcome and encouraged, especially if you respectfully disagree with me or find flaws in my arguments.

little things

  • Swim update: Swim season at Minnewaska started this past weekend, though I didn’t have a chance to get up to the lake until today. I did my mile – half freestyle, quarter side, quarter breast. I love the feeling of shaky exhaustion that I experience at the end of a swim. Oh, also: there are newts and tadpoles in the lake!
  • Robin update: The chicks have left the nest! They were doing little test flights on Saturday, and when I came back from Massachusetts on Sunday, they (and mama bird) were gone. So, two weeks from eggs to flight capable. Pretty amazing, especially when you consider that some humans take 30 or more years to leave the nest.
  • Foodie porn: Summer CSA distributions have begun, so I’m once again up to my ears in greens, peas, cabbage, beets, spring onions, broccoli, &c. I guess I’m not going to have to worry about getting enough roughage for a while. I wonder if any of this would make good ice cream… maybe the basil? Do I dare? Most everybody likes mint ice cream, so it wouldn’t be so much of a stretch; basil is in the same family. H’mmm… something to ponder.
  • bad ideas as a creative exercise

    I went to the Bakery during my lunch break to order a cake for my grandmother’s birthday tomorrow (I would have made one from scratch, but I completely forgot about her birthday until yesterday, and I just don’t have time). When the girl behind the counter asked me if I wanted anything written on the cake, I really really REALLY wanted to say, “Yes, could you please write ‘CONGRATULATIONS! YOUR TEST RESULTS ARE NEGATIVE!’ or ‘SORRY THE CONDOM BROKE’ or ‘DON’T WORRY, IT’S JUST A COLD SORE’.”

    I often spend my idle time thinking up the worst possible things I could say or do in various situations. I find that I do this much, much more when I’m nervous. I think maybe sometimes I’m just starved for a creative outlet. When my sister asked me what sort of ice cream I was going to make with my new ice cream maker, I told her my first plan was tuna raisin surprise. She actually believed me.

    So what other wildly inappropriate things could I have asked the girl at the bakery to write on the cake? And are there any worse flavours of ice cream than tuna raisin surprise?

    (Afterword: I made a batch of pumpkin ice cream last night. I’m out of cinnamon, so I used allspice instead, and some maple syrup. Amazingly good.)

    Qualified pleasures

    After wanting one for years, I finally bought an ice cream maker last weekend, off of Craig’s list. So, so, so not a good idea! I mean, I’m lactose intolerant. What was I thinking? I made a quart of vanilla on Monday, a quart of mocha on Tuesday, and a quart of coconut vanilla this morning (no, I’m not eating it all by myself; I’ve been sharing the wealth). It’s sooo good, but oy, the repercussions.

    A few other things that have made me smile lately: the kids in my condo complex racing down the driveway on their razor scooters (or whatever they’re called); one kid standing at the bottom of the hill as a lookout to make sure the others don’t become road kill. It reminds me of the sort of thing my brother and my neighbour and I used to do way back when, except we probably would have been lighting something on fire, too. Also, the woman at the ice cream shop (which for reasons made clear by the above paragraph I haven’t been frequenting of late) still (since last year) has her Manic Panic pink hair; I think it’s the same shade that I dyed my own hair about two years ago. (“Pretty Flamingo” – it glows under ultraviolet light! Stop laughing!) Also, the other yoga teachers I’ve been taking class with lately have been talking a lot about breath work and prana; this gives me hope that my fellow yogis are ready and eager for the pranayam class I’ll be teaching on Wednesday. I’m still nervous about it, but I finished my planning yesterday, so I’m as prepared as I can hope to be.

    Incense and Peppermint Chamomile

    Last Monday, I taught two moderate classes at Jai Ma. And on Friday, I taught a demo Level I class across the river in Lagrange. The incense was so thick in the Lagrange studio, I smelled like I’d fallen into a vat of nag champa after Friday’s class. Apart from that, I really liked the studio. It’s in a strip mall! What a perfect place for a yoga studio!

    The more I teach, the more comfortable I feel doing it; but I’m still having difficulty sleeping the night before.

    I’m going to be teaching a class on pranayam, yogic breathing, on 13 May. Partly I’m doing this because I never seem to have as much time as I’d like during normal classes to teach and practice pranayam. Partly I’m doing this because I want more experience teaching, and I’m not getting it by subbing alone, and I don’t feel ready to commit to a regular weekly class. At least not a regular weekly asana class. So… we’ll see how this goes. Maybe if there’s interest, I’ll start teaching a pranayam class on a regular basis. Stranger things have happened.

    I spent Saturday morning spreading manure on my third of the garden plot that I’m sharing with T and B. Does it say something about my feelings about my day job that I chose to spend my off time shovelling horse shit? My original plan was just to plant cheese pumpkins (which are way, way, way superior to sugar pumpkins for pie making), but I think I might plant pole beans as well. It’d be nice to have enough to freeze and enjoy throughout next winter, rather than just getting the meagre allotment of beans from my CSA share. I remembered on Saturday that I have a bag of chamomile seeds from a few years back, so I’ll probably scatter those around too.

    There is no mat.

    I started writing a post about cookbooks yesterday, but two paragraphs in I decided that it was stupid and I’d probably already made all of the interesting points anyway. Short version: we’d have a lot more quality time for ourselves if we’d get rid of all of our labour saving devices and “helpful” gadgets. But, well, I think everyone more or less knows that already, so I won’t go into further detail.

    In the intermediate/advanced yoga class I taught on Tuesday night, I incorporated a great deal of pranayam (breathing) instruction. Actually, pretty much all of my planning for the class focused on pranayam. I know there’s a school of thought that says advanced yoga practice involves well choreographed vinyasa and complex poses, and there’s definitely something to be said for that, but I don’t think that that’s how I want to teach at this point. There’s another school of thought that says that in advanced practice, the more basic practices (like asana) are used as a launching pad for subtler work. The physical practice is used to prepare the body for breath work. Breath work is used to prepare the mind for meditation. And meditation is used to calm the fluctuations of the mind, which is the whole point of the practice. In the most advanced yoga practice, of course, as I’ve written elsewhere, the mat disappears. But most of us aren’t ready for that. We need to keep getting on our mats as a reminder, if nothing else.