Words and picture by John Carbonaro
[The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the position of ARAUNY.]
Recently someone was perplexed that at a mindfulness convention, participants were ordering animal products. They assumed that mindful people would naturally register the dynamics and issues that connect and disconnect us. There is little evidence to support a direct causal link between engaging in mindfulness and becoming aware/sensitized to animals and their rights. Yet as one learns about mindfulness there may be exposure to other ‘progressive’ issues such as diet, fair trade, organic, and animal use.
Mindfulness starts with a three step “meditation” process to identify and strengthen the self or ego as a separate being: isolate, illuminate, and observe. From there all other experiences, internal and external pass in and out of the floating ego. This detachment -engagement does not affect or necessarily change valuative functioning. It just increases our ability to be in the moment as observer participant more than reactive participant. The techniques of Mindfulness alone do not illuminate or protect us from speciesism or any form of social conditioning.Thus a serial killer could increase their mindfulness, magnifying the sensate and mental textures while doing their “work”.
Freeing our self or ego to see the flow of the (socially conditioned) matrix is not the same as the mental activity required to interpret the matrix differently, because the mental activity required would necessarily distract our attention from just the simple, transparent effort of “being in the moment” ….the ego’s sense of itself and the simple “is-ness” of its content.
The centeredness with “I” or self, while growing & evolving, remains our constant in life while its content may come and go. We move through life embodied in our physique, and with some weight training we begin to notice a new presence of our muscles. When we practice mindfulness, we begin to notice the growing presence of our observing ego throughout our day. We begin to strengthen and associate our sense of “I” with it rather than “getting ahead of ourselves” in the content. The person always feels some level of conscious affinity with their “seat”, much like a movie critic who engages their self onto the performance but retains a slight step back to assess a larger repertoire of facets at work.
While our minds have the wiring ability to step back, reflect, use critical thinking and incorporate new information to adapt, create, and grow, we also interpret experiences through societally shared concepts that form social identity cohesiveness. Standard ways of thinking and behaving can be based in biased and confining frameworks that condone animal use. One can take the meaning of “mindful” and expand on it beyond meditation to encompass becoming more aware of many issues, levels, and intersections.
One of the objectives of Mindfulness is to “take back” the mind and return it to a more balanced relationship with the ego, the “I”‘s sense (and seat) of intentionality and free will & self-determination. Up to this point, the mind has been trying to act more like the brain (which it is not designed to do, but does its best in autopilot mode). Once the observing ego aspect of oneself is labeled, the process of deconstructing the mind‘s running programs can begin. As programs are pulled, they can be assessed, altered, and monitored. As the internal mechanisms of interpretation change hands and return executive functioning to the “I”, the ‘outside’ world of well-worn pathways, (both the physical and social relations) once invisible parts of the fabric, also become illuminated ‘constructs’. This realization illuminates the fact that we can (and should) make informed choices.
Bringing the mind closer to its natural plasticity, an open-ness congruent with free-will and creativity, it is my hope that this awareness affiliation would also make one more receptive to seeing structures and conditions that inhibit and oppress self-determination for others. However receptivity is not information. Information & education need to be provided as content for the mindful person.
When it comes to societal structures and ideologies that oppress individuality and freedom, we should be able to recognize and free ourselves (and others) of these mindsets and institutions. The movie “The Matrix” illustrates how our individual minds can be turned off and fed with running programs that endorse a pleasant “oneness” (animal use as natural, normal, and necessary, cycles of life, etc.) when all the while this version of relating hides and is funded by an unnecessary dismissal of equality and individuality.
I do agree with a sense of “oneness” with separate individuals bearing a commonality of addressing oppression and freedom. Additionally, mindful “presence” should not mean keeping the blinders on to what’s happening around us/because of us or lulling oneself into a docile place of detachment. It should be reserved for grasping all a moment has to offer and exercising the ‘presence of mind’ required to disengage and strengthen ego/observational functioning.
There is restorative Mindfulness that treats trauma –based experiencing, which remains helpful and necessary. The strengthening of ego functioning for individuals who become aware of the vast amounts of suffering under the current guise of normalcy is essential. Living daily in the mindful presence of the truth, as well as the grief at losing parts of one’s past ‘life’ requires a means to detach and process without running or neglecting.
Mindfulness often gets introduced along the trail of ‘self-improvement’ and healthy lifestyle changes, such as diet, exercise, and stress management. Even when veganism is primarily associated with diet, people often become aware of and categorize other benefits (albeit secondary) such as environment and animal welfare.
One potentially positive aspect of the vegan diet is that people start at the level of meeting their basic needs: “Will my family & I be healthy?” Once (and if) people establish that they can sustain their lives without animals, perhaps the animals will be left alone to live their own lives. Will Tuttle’s “Deep Veganism” essay covers this area quite well.
In the meantime, those that are awakened to the non-vegan state of the world may have daily encounters with reality transformation/transparency stress. What was once familiar now appears strange and tragic, which is uniquely different than perhaps an exposure to an unfamiliar (e.g. female genital mutilation) or normative (e.g. a car accident) stressor.
Our duty to become change agents for the animals requires that we attain a sustainable detachment base, much like the doctors and nurses in an emergency room, where care is delivered despite ever flowing tragedy. In this capacity mindfulness can be an ally. Although mindfulness increases the capacity of our sensorial awareness, it does not have to make us more vulnerable. The strengthening of our core self and its association with a future (just) world where the core selves of animals is recognized and sustained, nurtures our resolve.
So in some ways we begin with mindfulness the way people sometimes start with diet. It starts as a means to sustain ourselves so that we can then turn our focus outward to the injustices. Through a strengthening of our centeredness upon the shared foundation with sentient others (an authentic collective of mutual otherness), our sense of self can remain tethered without fear of dissipation or losing our way.
As one learns the techniques of monitoring stimuli : internal (self-talk, feeling states etc.) and external (defensive, hurtful comments from others, seeing people shopping in the meat department), the capacity to self-soothe and carry on with confidence grows. Here’s a good essay that speaks about seeing mindfulness as a way to reconnect with the inner drive to love & trust.
Mindfulness usually begins with an emphasis on breathing, using it as a focus/refocusing point while learning to maintain an observer stance. This makes sense as breathing is an identifiable and automatic function, making it easier to pay attention to as we learn. Managed breathing is already something we key in on when we are coping with stress. Our observing ego uses breathing to affiliate with as a constant until it has reached its own automatic, sustaining presence.For more on mindfulness training, see the work of Sam Harris.
If someone recalls their first time diving or snorkeling they remember how focused they were on breathing, trying to overcome the discomfort, as instinct and experience tells us to hold our breath. Using the analogy of a diver with an oxygen tank, note the submerged silence save for the sound of breathing in and out.
Next, imagine that the room you are in is under water (you can also use an astronaut comparison as well). Even though it is a room that you are familiar with, it is now out of commission in the way that you normally interact with it. Now it (and you) are on different terms and you can go about exploring it as an unfamiliar-familiar space. While focused on your breathing, you are submerged and the water dislodges the normal flow of thoughts, objects, and interactions. Instead they hang suspended in the fluidity. Your breathing acts as the only weight, an anchor giving you control to move about.
Begin mindful explorations of various terrains in your life-space, hearing only your breathing. Change the lighting or crawl about, looking at things from unfamiliar angles. Eventually do this with your ‘room’ of beliefs. When you re-emerge to the regular world things will still have a tinge of difference. That is your core self, growing and coming to the surface of the world.
If you are not yet vegan, turn your sustained gaze at a farmed animal for minutes on end until it becomes dislodged from the usual fabric. Look at them parenting and see the similarities between us and them. We are usually in such a hurry or using things functionally that we do not take the time to engage in anything approaching sustained.
If you are vegan you have become aware of how almost everything in the everyday world is a construct from animal pain and exploitation. The world you knew is now submerged and alien where everything ‘hangs’ separately from you. It is like wreckage underwater although most do not see it. Remember to use your core self as a way to breathe and make your way through. Explore the alien terrain and let it pass through you as you make your way. Do continue to explore the marvels of this cosmic world in everyday life, and use your convictions as the weight that allows you to tread forward to the day when the ground is shared by all individuals, living in a cosmos briefly lit to all of us.