I recently had a dear friend tear me up about eating dairy. This person told me I didn’t truly love animals because I eat cheese in France.
At first, I was hurt by this kindred spirit. The message was long, a bit aggressive and patronizing, but I also know this person well enough that I have much love, compassion, and an overall easygoing attitude about it all. I let it go, but it also got me thinking…
What’s most interesting about this situation was that I was him 2 years ago.
In fact, just a year ago I embarrassingly and regretfully judged – both inwardly and vocally – many people for the way they treated animals in Egypt last summer. I was deeply hurt, saddened by the unnecessary cruelty and sadistic torture I witnessed, and thus filled with the rage of “how-could-you’s.”
But a person can evolve in a single year. While seeing torturous acts on any living thing still cause me great pain, I’ve also expanded spiritually in ways that have allowed me to be more forgiving, loving and compassionate to others no matter the person or situation in question. This was thanks mostly in part to Byron Katie’s Loving What Is, Eckhart Tolle’s Power of Now and an entire year of inward self-reflection and life experience.
My dear friend is the sweetest soul, and I cherish his friendship. And I also have learned over this recent massive year of growth and spiritual development that his judgments and soft criticisms have nothing to do with me. He is passionate, and he wishes to express himself. And now I can choose to look at this situation differently. Looking back, I see it as a gift, a mirror of who I was last year, and a gentle reminder to be loving of everyone, no matter the person or the circumstance.
Because I used to be a judgmental vegan and animal rights activist, not only can I deeply relate t0 his motivations and feelings, but I have sincere empathy for his heart and where he is. I also am reminded of the change and growth I’ve experienced over the years, and how I may have hurt or offended others online because of memes I shared or youthful Facebook rants about how we “need” or “should” see the situation differently, how others “should” see it from my perspective.
In reality, no one needs to.
Every time we dine out and socialize or share what we are eating online, we face nutritional judgments and unsolicited advice. It’s inevitable for others to judge; we’re human!
But your friends are not asking for your opinion about their own decision to eat ____ or do _____ or even what to think.
I’ve let go of many people in my life in the last few years. Mix growing maturity and a massive spiritual development shift and you’ve got a chick who’s found much inner peace, self-compassion and a desire for everyone to love each other and just get along (and perhaps attempted spiritual “enlightenment”…?).
I’ve deleted countless individuals from my personal Facebook, and I have quietly Homer Simpson-like backed away from friends in real life who energetically stem and face the world in a place of anger, pride, and self-righteousness. As much as I respect them, I can’t spend my precious Earth time with these individuals. #sorrynotsorry
Let’s support and be gentle to our friends and family, regardless of what goes on their dinner plate. Regardless if they aren’t “educated” enough yet and aren’t speaking up because they don’t have enough information, are unsure of their stance, or simply aren’t as interested in it. Let’s support people with their eating choices. As long as people are kind and compassionate towards others, why are we screaming our beliefs at our friends and thus pushing them away? They did not ask to be judged because they ate cheese.
Not everyone wants to be an activist, leader or social media warrior, some of us are creatives, quiet thinkers, artists and bookworms who simply want to radiate light without being at the forefront of the battle.
Unlike my early twenties, I do not get fired up about things anymore. Isn’t that interesting? I mean, I’m only 25 but 22 year old me seems like a lifetime ago. I was a fiery spitfire, hella-opinionated and made sure eveeerybody knew where I stood on subjects.
The transition into my mid-twenties has led me to be much softer, gentler, quieter, and introspective. I spend more time going inward, listening to my inner voice, meditating and asking myself questions. Rather than looking towards #Girlboss Sophia Amaruso, Sheryl Sandburg and Instagram influencers like I used to, these days you’ll find me curled up, reading enlightening texts and taking copious amounts of notes from people I resonate more with – like Oprah, the Dalai Lama, Marianna Willamson, Eckhart Tolle, and Byron Katie.
The girl who used to get angry at “environmentalists” who ate meat doesn’t anymore.
The girl who would preach vegan activism and “Cow Spiracy on Netflix” doesn’t shout angrily into the social media abyss anymore, hoping she might change a mind or two.
She doesn’t preach about feminism and how all mothers should and need to “lean in.” Ooph.
I am not that girl. I am so much more forgiving of others. I see the goodness in them, without needing to judge their actions and lifestyle choices. I accept them. I see so much love and inter-connectedness between us. I am a nonjudgmental vegetarian.
Does that mean there aren’t real problems in this world? Absolutely not! We need progress, and we need those fierce warriors and leaders to lead us into a more peaceful, accepting, and equal future. We still have a far way to go, and those courageous leaders who wish to lead us into the fire are the ones who will effect a change of greater magnitude.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t come from internal peace within ourselves, with inner love and patience for everyone and then take peaceful consistent action. Like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., they came from inner peace and communication first, action second. They started from the energetic level of the solution.
Most Americans would never think of eating a dog – but why, then, do Americans commonly eat pigs?
This is something I value and believe. I personally do not believe in killing breathing life for my own food. (In fact, I’ve been doing it for 23 years, and I must say, I’m incredibly healthy, light, lean and feelin’ good most of the time!) But I would never push those ideas on someone else. Nor would I ever feel that it’s my job to educate others on what they should think and what they should believe.
I’ve quietly inspired people in my own family and friend circle simply by living my life, carrying out my values daily, and walking the walk. Am I leading? Not necessarily. I wouldn’t call myself a warrior or activist leader. But I’ve affected others around me by having inner peace and self-love within, living and practicing my values every day, and by not being judgemental of others when called upon.
I don’t accept plastic.
I bring a reusable spork, water bottle and linen grocery bag with me everywhere.
I never shop at fast-fashion stores, but I thrift instead.
I haven’t eaten meat in 23 years, and I limit my dairy intake. (I wish I could say I were vegan like I was in the states, but alas, I’m living in France and eating cheese, butter with baguette when I can.)
I clean up parks and beaches and oceans when I see trash.
I volunteer my time, donate my extra money and work directly with organizations: BAWA in Bali, last summer and presently with their social media outreach in Egypt, in D.C., and now walking dogs at the animal shelter in France.
I am kind and accepting and compassionate to every single person I meet. And I don’t judge them or force them to think or see what I do.
But most of all, I walk the walk. I don’t feel the need to preach. I am quietly confident, living my life, doing my thing, and maybe others will take notice, but I could care less either way. (#nononsense) The impact is larger, the result more positive and perhaps more powerfully influential. I have many people in my life who’ve made huge lifestyle adjustments by simply watching me, being curious about my lifestyle, and asking me about it. And that is the coolest!
And may you also enjoy these portraits I took of Percy, the Pig! Percy is a crowd-favorite and town ambassador of Oceanside, California. He is the sweetest little guy and loves snuggles, human attention, popcorn and his evening walks!
May 10, 2019
2016 - 2019 Helena Woods | Helena Woods Portraiture is located outside New York City in Fairfield County Connecticut and travels worldwide for her clients. Helena Woods is Connecticut’s premier family, children, baby and newborn photographer specializing in modern classic custom family photography with a timeless look that's always in style. As a professional photographer, Helena captures maternity, newborn, baby and family portraits in NYC, Westchester, Trumbull, Easton, Weston, and Westport, Greenwich, Darien, Westport, Norfolk and all Fairfield County surrounding areas.