Yes, it’s true… My yoga and meditation retreats are fully vegetarian, but I am not. While the vast majority of my diet may be plant based, I have stopped using these labels to structure my own eating.
I have had a long relationship with vegetarianism. At 17, I stood in horror as an activist group played a slaughterhouse video in the lobby of a concert venue. It was effective. I didn’t eat a piece of meat for six months and the next time I did, I saw the video playing again in my mind’s eye. Over the next seven years, I was a committed vegetarian and even went back and forth with veganism… no meat, eggs, dairy, honey, gelatin, and more.
I didn’t particularly enjoy being vegetarian. While things have progressed over the last twenty years, back then I felt like a burdensome dinner guest and often only had one menu choice while dining. But I just couldn’t switch off the very visceral reaction that I would have at the thought of eating flesh.
Determined to eat meat again, I began with egg salad, then progressed to tuna salad. One Valentine’s Night Dinner, I shared a bottle of wine with my date and then enjoyed a few bites of his steak. After, that, I re-introduced meat in small amounts.
Within a couple of years, yoga began to take over my life. I learned about the Yamas & Niyamas (yoga’s moral code) and specifically “ahimsa”, or non-violence, the reason many yogi’s don’t consume meat. Once again, I was back to eating just veggies. However after a few Ayahuasca ceremonies last Fall, this part of my world-view shifted giving some relief to the constant questioning in my mind as to whether or not I should, ethically speaking, eat meat.
There’s a part in the book I’m working on where I talk about somatic lessons, and this is a perfect example. While surveying my surroundings in ceremony, I feel connected to all beings. There is a resonance throughout my physical body that might be loosely translated as “namaste”… the light within me sees and honors the light within you, but this isn’t “light within” this is light throughout. And it doesn’t just apply to humans – it applies to everyone. I’ve shared conscious space with dogs, horses, lizards, and with the trees. This is a profoundly real understanding of the pranic field that permeates all life… the kind of understanding that comes from bearing witness to something ineffable.
I could see the larger picture of nature, of life cycles, and of food chains – how it all fits together. I could see how we all have our place in the great cosmic order and that cycles of production and consumption are as sure as creation and destruction.
Our minds love to think their way out of natural choices and before our rational minds got involved – hunting and gathering was the way. I spent twenty years looking to doctrine and others’ opinions for help deciding what to eat. Now, I’m trying to just listen to my body. Veggies or meat… it’s all in the cycle of life.
I must eat to live and while I don’t have to eat meat to live, it does, on rare occasion, seem to be what this human body wants. When it does, I thank the creature for bringing me nourishment, the way I am continually grateful to Mother Earth for all the delicious fruits and vegetables she provides. In the end, we’ve all come from this earth, and to this earth we’ll return.
While I might consume a small amount of meat every couple of weeks or so when I’m craving it, I consider it a special occasion and usually eat that meal out. I prefer to cook vegetarian at home.
Most of my retreat guests are coming from the other side – a lifetime of omnivorous eating based in the standard American (processed) diet. Offering a whole foods vegetarian menu during my retreats introduces guests to a whole new way of eating that opens up possibilities for better balance in their existing diets by learning new ways to prepare fruits and veggies that are not only delicious but satiating.