Vegetarian or not.
I was on a subway recently with a friend and both headed Eastbound. I was heading towards Donlands Station (editor’s note: in Toronto) – home of one of my favourite burger places – Square Boy. I am not sure exactly what it is about their burgers that I enjoy so much. Perhaps it’s the nostalgia. The place has existed long before I was born and I have a vague recollection of my father taking me here as a child – since our family doctor’s office was just around the corner back then. Perhaps I have an unconscious desire and attraction to older Greek men. It’s completely possible. Growing up in and around Greektown can do that to someone I suppose. Have you even seen some of the statues of Zeus? He’s a looker! Ok sure he liked to get it on with people in various outfits and animal forms, but really he isn’t half bad.
I should mention though that I have never seen one of those statuesque forms here in the Square Boy though! That’s part of the deal though, isn’t it? It’s a greasy spoon – a food indulgent locale. A place where one can just relax and be without consequence or judgement. Of course as I say this I think of the mid-30s man who works here with the light grey-coloured eyes who I catch myself gazing at too long and have to turn away, only to want to look back again a few seconds later. The place is old. It shows the wear of time. So do the workers and many of the patrons. Despite all of this, a part of me longs to return here. I would love to judge this in some way, or explain that it’s awful and bad, or that I hardly ever do it. But I love it.
There is a belief that yogis - all yogis - for one reason or another are vegetarians. Some are. Some are vegan or raw-food vegans or will eat vegetables and eggs (since free-range chickens will lay eggs regardless). Some do this out of religious/spiritual connotations, some out of moral or ethical reasons. My personal take on this tends to come from the first of the eight components of yoga. This being the Yamas – our attitude toward our environment. I have chatted about a few already. There are five yamas and the first one is Ahimsa. Ahimsa has many translations but the one used more commonly is non-harming or non-violence. It is through this avenue that many yogis believe that in order to move further down this path and be less harmful one must forgo eating meat.
While this may work for many as a viable option, this may also be a daunting task for others. I remember first learning about this almost 10 years ago at the beginning of this yoga journey and recalling how upset that made me. For someone who can barely take care of themselves, keeping up with medications and doctors appointments and trying to eat around pill intakes was already a tough enough job, then radically shifting my diet in order to practice yoga and learn to meditate. What I found was that these self-observances are essentially just that; things that work and/or may not work for each individual to decide. Yogis are trying to live life in a reduction from harm both in cause and effect. This may include the absence of meat.
Harm reduction in daily life
But non-harming is broader than this. Where I think its greatest impact in the lives of us mere mortals is in judgement. The words and phrases I use to communicate with you and about you are more devastating than the actions about which we talk about. If yoga is truly about connection and drawing together and becoming more united and more whole, it cannot be accomplished at the sacrifice of my brothers and sisters. Non-harming is first and foremost the number one practice a yogi begins. It starts with self. If there any actions, things in life going on right now that are causing you pain? The way we work or sleep or play? My suggestion would be to stop it.
It’s funny. There is a pose I teach often called sleeping hero pose (Supta Virasana) that I warn students each time if there is any sharp pain in the ankles, knees or lower back, to back off from coming all the way down to the floor. I have found various ways to say this over the years and many of my students laugh when I talk about it. Each and every single class I have taught through the years though, there is one student who pushes themselves too far and ends up shooting right up out of the posture because they hurt themselves. In yoga, if there is pain, there is no gain. Yoga is about awareness. And starting in our own bodies is a great beginning.
My words and thoughts have power (see article “Just two more Inches”). How shall I use them today? Do I choose to destroy others with my thoughts and my words or do I choose to build them up? Sometimes it’s justified, that to be completely open and honest one has to say some tough and mean things to people because they need to know the truth. But I am reminded that, from a yogic perspective, Satya (truthfulness) comes second to Ahimsa – this means that it’s more important to not hurt someone’s feelings or burst their realities then it is to tell the truth. As one of my spiritual guides likes to remind people, unsolicited advice is abuse. And he’s right. I do not have a place in telling someone else what is right or not right in their lives; nor does anyone else. Each may choose for themselves based on their own path. Not all will reach the same place in a path at the same time. That’s the wonderful thing about journeys.
After my first class of yoga I had a smoke (tasted amazing), grabbed some beer and ordered a meat-lover pizza and applauded myself for my wonderful commitment to practice. Through the years as I became more aware of what worked for me and my life in those times and places, things changed. Some things came and went and others came back in again and left. It became a practice of what worked for me and what didn’t. Of what is harming me and what wasn’t. And so I say grab that burger for all you are worth and chow down! I love them. As funny as life is, of course, as this present time, the last burger I had tore through my body like nobody’s business. And as I write this I pause and ponder if I need to make new changes in my life that will cause me less harm. I hope you take the time out to do the same. Namaste.