For many people, this is the season of Peace & Love, Forgiveness & Compassion, Goodwill & Gratitude – yes, those wonderful human qualities are typically only seasonal, alas! You might even send or receive greeting cards pleading for Peace on Earth and all that jazz, as if peace would someday finally rain down on us from the heavens thanks to some higher grace in the month of December.
All spiritual traditions teach us to examine our own actions and intentions in order to cultivate peace and harmony but talk is cheap, as the saying goes. It’s really easy to say we want peace, yet working towards a non-violent world requires conscious personal effort and even sacrifice. Peace is a process resulting from an intricate chain of private events and personal choices in everyday life, starting with our relationship to what nourishes us.
We are indeed the food we eat. If we are mindful, we can feel the immediate energetic effects of what we consume (what the Vedic tradtion called Gunas, or properties of nature, such as heavy and dull Tamas, exciting and energising Rajas, or balancing and calming Sattva – a major purpose of yoga is to bring the yogi to a more Sattvic existence).
The cellular energy of our food informs our own cells through the transmission of enzymes, hormones vitamins, minerals, toxins, etc. Hormones, being the messengers of the body – human or animal – change according to emotional conditions and stressors they experience. Fully aware that an animal’s emotional energy and natural tendencies are held in their flesh, and to avoid causing unnecessary suffering to all living beings, Yogis have long admonished their followers to give up meat in order to live a more Sattvic – peaceful – life. Even people who ate meat traditionally would do so on rare occasions, and certainly not daily. Warriors were expected and encouraged to eat meat in order to maintain their Rajasic aggression, used to specific ends.
Prayers of gratitude help to acknowledge the ultimate sacrifice required to keep us all alive, but these can’t compensate for the excesses of over-consumption that, ironically, are heightened during holidays like Christmas and Hanukkah, despite the cloying and glorious sentiments on the greeting cards. There is a lot of hidden (and not-so-hidden) violence in holiday celebrations, especially in contemporary times.
Somewhere along the way, we humans forgot the value of our relationship to the animals and environment around us. Centuries ago, it became Christian doctrine to assume human superiority over all natural things, which were henceforth seen as being up for grabs according to human needs and desires. More recently, we began indiscriminately consuming far more than we really needed, and without much thought about the conditions in which our toys and clothes are made, our food is grown, and our animals raised and slaughtered.
Like every spiritual tradition, yoga is predicated on important guiding principles, notably Ahimsa (non-harming) and Asteya (taking only what you need, or what is yours to take). Living like this is a foundation for peace, which is cultivated from the inside out.
Peace in the heart, peace in the world. ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
To want peace is to consume only those things that won’t destroy another living being’s habitat, so they are not forced to migrate in fear and resentment. To want peace is to eat only what we need and share what we do not, so the food on the table is valued for the immense blessing that it is and not scraped off plates uneaten at the end of a meal. To want peace is to recognise that we truly are what we eat, and that animals raised in fear, violence and neglect will contribute to our own suffering. We cannot find peace in the foie-gras of tortured geese, or the caviar of nearly-extinct sturgeon, or in coffee made in earth-destroying aluminium pods.
We can each contribute something if we carefully reassess our consumption in light of striving for greater peace. If you eat animal products, you might consider reducing the amount eaten each week, and sourcing them from local farmers who use traditional, organic methods of raising animals offering them the highest quality of life possible. For the environment, we can choose organic methods of growing food which supports biodiversity and healthy soil, water and pollinators, and which studies have shown produce higher crop yeilds than GMO crops. At holiday times – and always – we can reflect on how much we really need to consume, whether in the form of food or objects, and consider the origins of whatever we buy as gifts.
When we can truly see the link between how we consume and how we exist in this inextricably interwoven world, we will know exactly how to generate the energy of peace we so dearly want and badly need. Peace requires compassion, simplicity, humility and awareness, and is available to each of us all year round.
With love and light, and best wishes for a peaceful holiday season!