How Meditation changed my life.

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Science and logic was always my thing. I loved the book, “the Selfish Gene” by Richard Dawkins. It reinforced my view that life and its meaning can be explained by science. Also, no doubt it helped me feel ok about living what was largely a selfish life. Dawkins was able to explain in a language I understood, how all examples of altruism in nature are derived from a selfish underlying drive from our innate genetic makeup. I felt liberated and validated by this

The day I decided to go vegan was a step into the unknown for me. Leading up to this day, I had started to question everything and think for myself. A new real liberation was beginning. Going vegan was a big whole life decision. It was based on a concern for the well-being of others, who would never be able to thank me. There was nothing selfish about the decision other than to say that I would feel more comfortable not supporting the violence and cruelty inherently part of the production of meat, dairy and eggs. The fact that I was able to make such a decision, was a critical moment in my life.

The decision opened my mind to the possibility that true altruism is a natural and hugely important human behavior. I have since noticed how this is somewhat smothered by our society, or more to the point, the media. This change in my life was quite mind blowing. It was a bit like I had been blind all my life and then opened my eyes for the first time. Truly it was nothing like I had ever imagined but I knew now that all my previous ideas needed to be questioned. How was I going to cope?

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Spirituality was never really my thing but I decided I needed to open my mind to help me cope with my new vision and avoid being led astray again. It seems it is a natural path, when you start to question things and look for answers where the media and cold science has failed. The easiest path growing up was to remain blind and just to agree with what I was being told. Like most boys, I wanted to be like my dad and so dived into science and chemical engineering. All seemed to be well. The day my eyes opened, it dawned on me that in this wonderful world, the earth was rapidly dying, and it was standard human activity that was the cause. The penny really dropped hard when the cold cruelty of industrial farming and slaughterhouses sneaked through my filters. There I was thinking all was well and most people were fundamentally good, suddenly realizing that we were all actively participating in this mammoth atrocity directed at all life on earth. Many would say I am being too negative and melodramatic and I understand why they don’t want to hear this. But the numbers and facts don’t lie. I have chosen to face the truth, and not bury my head in the sand. The big question was, how can I face reality when reality includes horror and cruelty on an unimaginable scale? The story gets much more optimistic and better from here when I found meditation.

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So, my interest in meditation grew and I made the decision to register at the 10 day Vipassana. This is a meditation course in the blue mountains west of Sydney and is run all around the world. I highly recommend it for anyone who is ready. A few words of warning, it’s not what I would describe as a fun 10 days. In fact, it was probably the hardest I have ever worked on anything in my life. It is a silent course. For 10 days there was no chatting (or even acknowledging others), no reading, no phones, TV etc. There was a 4am wakeup call every morning and we received daily instruction along with about 10 hours of meditation. Also for vegans, be aware they serve some dairy products, (which in my view is a complete hypocrisy for a place that speaks sincerely of compassion for all beings). There were two full meals per day, including delicious basic vegan food, and for dinner you would get two pieces of fruit. Yes, it’s a drastic course but the stakes are high and I am so glad I did it.

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I did the course 4 months ago. I now use the meditation practice daily. It fits in perfectly with my new approach to life and desire to face the truth. The more I work on this practice the more positive results I get. The meditation gives me a greater understanding of who I am, and helps me let go of what is out of my control and so focus on what I can change. I am now more comfortable with myself and facing the truth, which is an essential part of inner peace and making a difference……and… having fun is again possible, and I think essential.

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Rick – EVER


A short story from the near future

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“Hey Phil, don’t forget Saturday night dinner with James and Bec”, Angie yells on her way out the door. “You better contact the restaurant today if you insist on having your special meal”.

“Damn her” I mumble under my breath. As if eating out is not hassle enough, without her never ending digs at my food choices. “I’ve already called them”, I yell impatiently. “They said it’s fine and the “cold room” is available”. “Oh great”, Ange sighs as she drives off to work.

They call it the cold room because it’s a cold drafty room.  According to polls, seeing and smelling animal body parts while eating is offensive to more than 80% of people. Also it is now required by law that meat must only be served  in a separate specially ventilated area.  Adding insult to injury is the 25% harm tax on all animal products, which is shared between animal sanctuaries and environmental groups.

Luckily most of my friends politely accept the imposition of dining with a meat eater, although I still have to deal with the routine questions like, “why are you still eating animals” and how are your arteries holding up?” My parents still remember the days when society shunned those who refused to eat  animal products. They called them “vegans”. Those were the days.  Maybe I was just born too late.

 


Meat and the Environment

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When I first heard about global warming, like most of us in Australia, my personal footprint was astronomical.

Here in Australia, we are each disproportionately large contributors to this developing global catastrophe.  This realization was a big kick in the face for me and enough to drive anyone to drugs, alcohol and other emotional consumption. This response of course just makes the problem worse and feeds the shame. For me, the decent way to react to this is to have a serious think about it and the ways I stop being an environmental vandal.  This is a bit of a minefield.
Trying to zoom in on the big areas and the obvious issues seemed the best approach.  For example, when I needed a car, fuel economy and emissions were primary purchase considerations.  I installed solar panels on the roof as I had a good north facing roof ideal for this.  Other things like recycling, not wasting water, choosing environmentally friendly products, growing as much food as possible and thinking twice about unnecessary consumption were all sensible ideas.

There are many other considerations but meat consumption is huge and has now achieved the elephant in the room status.

 

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The excuse of not knowing the environmental consequences of meat has lost its validity. Short of science deniers, the impacts of meat are now  well-known facts.   The 2008 United Nations report found that animal agriculture produces more greenhouse gases than the entire transport sector.  Later the report by Worldwatch suggested the UN report underestimated the impact and that at least 51% of all man made greenhouse gases come from animal agriculture. Another sobering reminder of this is the finding from a life cycle study on various foods that 1kg of lamb results in 40 times the emissions of 1kg of lentils.
Some people still try to justify their meat eating with the suggestion that vegan agriculture would require more crops and so do more harm.  In fact the complete opposite is true.  For example approximately 80% of the soy crops grown globally are fed to animals. In other words, meat consumption is a major disproportionate driver of the increase in land clearing, either for the massive amount of crops needed to feed the animals or to make way for pasture for animal grazing. This is only part of why meat has such a major impact on our environment.  To read more, check out our website link on meat and the environment.
The fact is that anyone genuinely concerned about global warming should give up eating meat. It’s not that hard and all the science says this is a very healthy thing to do.

 


Why this Australian Male decided to be vegan.

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Rosie resident at EVER sanctuary

Exactly three years ago, my wife Reem and I independently decided to go vegan.  Prior to that I was a vegetarian for 7 years which means I have now been meat free for10 years. I thought this was an appropriate time to reflect on a roller coaster ride.

While I did a lot of work and thinking prior, I still look back at the day I went vegan as the day I got serious about trying to make a difference in the world. Leading up to this decision I had done a lot of soul searching and work on myself, which looking back on it, made the decision inevitable.

I explored the idea of selfishness and how it was such a powerful driver of my choices.  I understood it is an essential part of us all but also that it drives the behaviours that are so profoundly destructive.  I came to realize that I could never be satisfied without deep and serious consideration to the harm my choices cause.

Looking back many years, it was learning about climate change that probably got me started. At the time I was a meat eating Aussie, living the dream.   I learned enough to be seriously concerned about the future and to be overwhelmed with a helpless guilty feeling.  The guilt came from knowing the implications that out of all the species on earth and all the humans, and all the countries, my contribution was huge. Seeing that some others around me were worse than me was not comforting.  I decided being an apathetic bystander was a scenario I could not live with.  The natural response was to at very least try my best to be an example and act responsibly.  This led me to the idea of considering the impact of my choices on the earth and the suffering caused. For the first time I had a powerful desire to control my desires for short term gratification if there were negative implications for others.

At this stage I was already vegetarian and then I was given an education on animal agriculture. We were at a fundraiser for an animal sanctuary and they showed a few videos of practices in a range of animal exploitation industries, including dairy and eggs.  There was also information shared about environmental effects and some nutritional facts.   I immediately decided that veganism, and hopefully beyond veganism, was an essential path for me.

Since then, I have spent a lot of time educating myself and looking at all the arguments put to me against veganism. While many of these arguments are wishful thinking some have validity on the surface.  One point often made is that veganism cannot claim to cause zero harm.  Any serious reader in the area knows this is true. Zero harm towards other humans, animals and the wider environment is not a realistic goal. This is particularly true of those of us living in western countries.   Simply building a house, or driving a car is harmful.  The argument gets off the rails when this fact is used to justify very harmful activities.

One example we often hear is that growing food crops causes harm in many ways. This is true.  The question is what does this mean for veganism?  Turns out it actually reinforces veganism as the right and least harmful choice. Exploited animals must be fed, and this requires much more crops than if we live directly on crops, as vegans do. This is an unavoidable fact of nature which is explained in detail on our website (earth tab).   So, first we must accept that perfection is impossible and then commit to the realistic goal of harm minimization.

So after three years of reading, learning and living vegan, I am convinced I thrive on a vegan diet (as expected according to the leading nutritional bodies around the world), and short of  obscure impractical ideas like dumpster diving, there appears to be nothing that comes close to veganism on the harm minimization scale.

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Rick and Salsa
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Salsa, Bobbie, Rosie

A day in the life

Ahhh, it’s the weekend and after the morning feeding and sorting out of all the sanctuary residents, it was time to take a break and head out for lunch at the local veg café.  It feels right to align our lives with respect for all our fellow animals, but today more than usual this interrupted our plans a little.

We headed off down the road, and a few minutes in to the trip, we both spotted a tiny yellow thornbill sitting on the busy road. What to do?  Hazard lights on and Reem sprints back up the road and flags down the next speeding car before picking up the injured bird. Shortly after, a large convoy of motorbikes screamed past. This was looking like a very lucky bird, maybe!   We found a spot to pull off the road so we could check her out.

She appeared to be in one piece and we were immediately hopeful there was no serious injury.  We put her on the ground in front of us and unfortunately she was looking quite disoriented and a little bent out of shape. So I put my finger in front of her and she climbed on it.

Yellow thorbill recovering

I stood in the brilliant sunshine and she just perched there and checked me out for about five minutes, looking pretty relaxed and alert. I showed her a tree branch but she did not seem to want that.  Then in the blink of eye, she darted off with speed and intent, into the woods. We both felt relief and elation that this had ended so perfectly.

This little morning event was just another reminder to us that all animals have their lives to live, and this deserves our respect and consideration.  We find that when we follow these principles, the rewards to our spirit and self-respect are massive.  The feeling of knowing this bird would certainly be dead now if not for our action, and instead is now doing what birds do, is what life is about.  The moments we had, looking at the bird with a sense she knew we genuinely cared about her wellbeing, will stay with us.  The vegan falafel wrap for lunch tasted even better than usual.

As is the case, these days, my partner in crime, was able to capture some of the memories using the smart phone camera.  Hope you enjoy these.


Orchard

Garden fresh veggies are great but fresh organic fruit at your door step is even better.  If your a boomer like me, you can probably remember when bought fruit actually tasted great.  Well, that’s the best reason to grow your own as it tastes just like that and it is an environmentally friendly hobby.  The taste is not only amazing it is also very nostalgic.  We now get 3 types of apples and pears in the autumn, oranges, grapefuit, mandarin and other citrus in the winter, apricots, plumcots, nectarines and peaches in the summer.

As with the veggies, plenty of advice is available but we found you can’t beat your own experience. The key is to find an area that gets plenty of sun, not subject to flooding, and if possible some protection from high winds.  The trees need plenty of water when producing fruit so a good water supply is essential.  We are lucky here in Berry as we tend to get plenty of rain.  We do get high wind from the north in the winter but this has not been a big issue as most of the trees are  basically leafless and bare in that time which allows the wind to just blow through. When choosing what to plant consider the climate, temperatures in winter, and note that many fruits need a second tree to allow for cross pollination.  The local nursery was able to help us with these requirements.

Fertilization of the trees is important about 4 times per year.  At times we have resorted to chicken manure based products, which are unfortunately a by product of the egg or chicken industry. We are continuing to explore the best ways to completely avoid even by -products of animal exploitation. Options have been to use our own mulch, mushroom compost and other specialty products from the nursery.  Also as we have rescued chickens most of their manure is collected and placed in the compost to boost its value.   In the meantime, with the prevalence of animal exploitation, we will still consider using the chicken manure based products which would otherwise be simply a waste product.

Another lesson we learned the hard way was that birds love fruit as much as we do.  The first year we had apples on our tree, we watched them ripen and just as we thought about starting to eat them, the birds ate every single one.  To fix this we purchased netting that wraps around the tree.  We chose a fine mesh designed so that birds will not get tangled in it.  The down side of the fine mesh is that they can only go on after pollination as the netting prevents the bees getting to the flowers for pollination. It is best to prune trees well each year so they don’t grow too large. This ensures you don’t need a crane to get the fruit and also makes protecting with the netting much more practical.


Building a vegetable patch – our hits and misses

With a bit of spare land any self respecting green warrior must have at least a semi serious vegetable garden and orchard. Nothing beats the feeling of drinking a smoothie made from freshly picked organic fruit and greens from the garden.

We obtained advice from many sources but we quickly learned that trial and error is the best teacher. We opted for raised garden beds as they are easier on the back and protect the crop from hungry wombats.  We also discovered in the off season, they are a good place for recycling/composting rabbit litter (when the compost area overflows).

As of today, we have 9 raised vegetable beds, and more than 15 fruit trees, (various apples, a range of citrus, apricot, plumcot, macadamia and a pear tree).

The first golden rule was to choose a location with as much sun exposure all year round as possible. We installed the fruit trees along the driveway and the  garden beds as shown below on the sloping area, facing north, outside the kitchen window.

Raised beds need to be filled up and we chose straw hay bales along with other organic matter, cardboard, and rabbit litter.  This is all topped off with our own compost or mushroom compost from the local nursery. We are able to minimize the amount of compost purchased by composting and using large amounts of waste from our many rescued animals.  One thing to be aware of is that rabbit bedding/hay/droppings etc, eventually breaks down to make good compost but it needs time.

The following pictures show the process as it evolved over several years.