Albert Einstein said: "Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chance for survival on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet." When I chose to take that first heartfelt step towards a vegetarian diet nearly twenty-three years ago, little did I realize the profound positive effect of that small decision on my life and the lives of others! An ethical vegetarian, my initial intention was to spare countless animals a life of intense suffering. Yet I have come to realize that in choosing to go vegetarian, we choose also to give a priceless gift to the world, as well as to ourselves.
My experiences have taught me that the art of vegetarianism contains within it a multitude of lessons. One lesson in which I have become well versed is how to give and receive gracefully and effortlessly. Indeed, I view vegetarianism as a mutual gift exchange with life. In return for the intent to live with compassion and aligned with our highest values, the rewards that flow back to us are tremendous.
Because vegetarianism is essentially a peaceful and compassionate act, not only does it drastically reduce the negative impact that we each have on the world, but it also aids us immensely in our personal development. Physically, it has restored health in my body and heightened my awareness of and connection to my physical body through the attention that I have had to give to my eating habits. Emotionally, it has helped me develop an attitude of non-judgment, nonviolence and non-attachment through continually testing my motives as well as my patience. Spiritually, it has helped me develop a relationship with the divine and filled me with love.
In addition to our relationship with ourselves, vegetarianism changes greatly how we relate to the rest of the world, albeit without our knowing. It has over the years bestowed upon me a consciousness of the devastating effects of animal agriculture, not only on the billions of animals involved, but also on our environment, our fellow humans, our own health, and our future on this planet. It has shown me the interconnectedness of all life, and that how we treat one we treat all. This heightened awareness has developed in me compassion, empathy and respect for all of creation, deepening my connection with others, animals, the Earth and my higher and true self. It has helped me develop a strong empathy with all who are oppressed. It has empowered me to speak out on behalf of others, although I found it very difficult in the beginning. It has, in my opinion, given me the ultimate reward: the opportunity, to quote Gandhi, to "be the change I wish to see in the world". I can think of no more fulfilling way to live for me than in freedom, in truth, in peace and in love with the whole of creation. In short, vegetarianism has helped me give back to the world.
Vegetarianism seen thus becomes a transformational art. It becomes not a question of what we must go without or give up, but of what we can gain from our alignment with the highest values of humanity. Ultimately vegetarianism is rooted not in deprivation, but in abundance. Vegetarian mind reconnects us with the whole, and insodoing heals us all.
As ethical individuals, we have choices. We have the power to choose the most compassionate and peaceful answers, starting with our own lives. Following a vegetarian today is not only easy (and growing easier by the minute), it is a positive, energizing action, a rekindling of the true human spirit and an enactment of the highest good of which humanity is capable.
Above all, vegetarianism is a gift of love.