by Laura Marzola
I don’t often give much credence to my dreams. The products of my over-lively imagination, whether in waking or in sleep, are creations I’ve learned not to take too seriously. Every once in awhile, however, I can’t help but to recognize the significance of my subconscious musings, as sometimes they appear, even in their most bizarre manifestations, the harbingers of some of life’s great lessons.
I began thinking about the topic of today’s post, the importance of remembering and embracing our humanity, during my bike ride late yesterday afternoon. Physical exercise is my preferred form of meditation, and few moments give me greater clarity of mind and tranquility of heart than those spent cycling through the park on a brisk, autumn afternoon. But, I found that, after a fairly rigorous two-hour workout, I had little in the way of mental energy for composing this post. So, I continued gathering my thoughts throughout the evening, right up until the moment I fell asleep.
I awoke in a rather fitful state at around 3 a.m. Heart pounding. Palms sweating. Covers strewn about and, seemingly, violently cast over the sides of the bed. I had been dreaming that I was locked in a cell. Thrown into a prison whose walls were made of concrete and surrounded, on all sides, by other cells, each imprisoning someone familiar to me. Childhood friends, family members, former teachers. But none of us recognized the others at first. Because we weren’t allowed to speak, and we all wore white masks to disguise our faces. Eventually, a childhood friend of mine got up the courage to break out of his cell, declaring as he did so, that he was going home. He asked me to go with him, but I was terrified that I would be severely punished if I attempted an escape.
You see, it turns out, the cells that studded the concrete corridors of my dream weren’t actually locked. The only force that kept us prisoners inside, masked and mute, came from within. Eventually, my friend persuaded me to join him. I marched straight out of my cell, revealed my face, and gathered my personal belongings. On my way out of the front door of the prison, I walked past the woman I had been afraid would stop me–a guard of sorts. We stared each other in the face. And she said nothing as she watched me free myself.
As you might imagine, I didn’t sleep well for the rest of the night. I tossed and turned for some time, reflecting not only on the content of my dream, but also on the supremely forceful feelings it elicited in me. And on the ways in which it altered my approach to the topic of today’s post.
I believe very strongly that our thoughts create our reality. But, thinking alone is not enough. It isn’t sufficient, for example, for us to believe that violence, in all of its forms, is wrong while we participate in the oppression of other living, feeling beings and, perhaps even more innocuously, continue to engage in discreet (and some not-so-discreet) acts of violence against ourselves. If our thoughts lay the foundation of our reality, then our speech and action give it color. Give it force. Give it life. And project it far beyond the limits of our perceived selves. Our words and behaviors have the power to shape communities. Much like love and gratitude, our beliefs, no matter how noble or virtuous, are worth little when they are left unexpressed and unshared.
That’s why it is so vital that we think, speak, and live our truths. That’s also why I envision The Cook to Love Project as a practical, solution-based approach to real-world problems, rather than a hashing and re-hashing of social issues–a place to bicker and complain. The world has more than enough forums for that.
I believe that harmony between thought, speech, and action forms the basis for all individual happiness and is thus a requisite component of any meaningful move toward social change. Which is why The Cook to Love Project is dedicated to ending violence, generally, by helping individuals build healthy, constructive relationships with themselves. It is not possible to live in a nonviolent world as long as we tolerate or participate in violence of any kind. It is also impossible to heal the divisions within and among human beings as long as we fail to verbalize that we are, first and above all else, human beings. And we’ve got to act accordingly.
On the About the Project page, I identify myself using the descriptors, “vegan, lesbian, feminist,” in that order. I do this for a reason. Because I am a human being first. The term “vegan” reflects my relationship with myself and, as I see it, my relationship with the rest of the natural world. Before I am a political being, a sexual being, a creative, or intellectual being, I am a sentient being. Before I can declare my position in relation to the rest of human society, I must establish my relationship to the world from which I came.
That is why I am no one else before I am human. And I am nothing if I deny ownership of my humanity. Of course, recognizing our humanity sounds simple enough. So simple, so obvious, so glaringly self-evident that you’re probably wondering why on earth I’m making such a fuss over it, aren’t you? I mean, there is no shortage of pressing, serious, and highly complex human issues that need to be discussed and debated, right?
I don’t think we can address, in any meaningful and effective way, solutions to human issues without first recognizing what it is to be human. To my mind, this is the level at which many social justice movements fail. And the reason why there is so much violence in this world in the first place. We have forgotten where we come from. We have grown so self-involved, so immersed in our own “problems,” in dismantling constructs of a social nature, that we seem to have forgotten our place in this world. We’ve lost perspective and, in doing so, have completely and foolishly turned our backs on the source of our problems.
There are those who would (and do) call me crazy for thinking this way. There are highly educated, intelligent, passionate feminists who advocate non-violence, who dedicate their lives to fighting against sexism, heterosexism, racism, and classism, and who, daily, feast on the flesh of tortured animals. Simply because they enjoy the way non-human individuals taste. Likewise, there are animal rights advocates who reject the “feminist” label. Or those who spend their days working in animal shelters, nursing sick, injured, and abused cats and dogs, all while dining on the carcasses of murdered cows, pigs, and chickens. I call their logic misled.
Fighting against one form of violence while tolerating another, or fighting for the rights of others while acting violently toward oneself, for me, is like trying to chop down a tree by sawing off its branches. If we want to live in a kinder, gentler world, we need to strike closer to the roots of the problem. We need to regain perspective.
Our failure is not in recognizing that all forms of oppression are connected. The patterns of inconsistency reflected in our thoughts, speech, and behavior arise from a failure to recognize that we are all connected. What we need, as human beings, is a good, strong dose of humility. It is not enough to say that we should respect nature for its miraculousness or that we should not consume other animals because, at our core, we are all animals. This kind of thinking is ego-centered, and it reflects our arrogance. True humility means raising non-humans to the level of “individual.” It means recognizing the tremendous strength, beauty, and wisdom contained in every cloud, palm tree, and blade of grass. And understanding ourselves as channels for something far greater than we’ll ever understand. It is from that source, and from our glimpses of those truths, that humility can be attained. And that we might find a starting point for refocusing our efforts and our perspectives on the nature of social problems.
As Gandhi once said, “The seeker after truth should be humbler than the dust. The world crushes the dust under its feet, but the seeker after truth should so humble himself that even the dust could crush him. Only then, and not till then, will he have a glimpse of truth.” Those moments of recognition, in which we are able to catch glimpses of truth, no matter how fleeting or how infrequent, are powerful enough to alter our perspectives for a lifetime, should we choose to embrace them. Our humility is the principle source of our personal power. It is our source of inner peace and the eradication of fear. All other virtues, even gratitude, flow from humility. If our desire is to create a kinder world, one that is guided by love, rather than by greed, fear, and hate, it is necessary for us–each and every one of us–to begin at the beginning.