January 2017 was quite a momentous month in global affairs. It was also a month in which I decided to shake it up a little bit. Dry January, Veganuary… why not, I thought. The new year is always an opportunity to start afresh, wipe the slate clean and do things differently. Having finally reached February, here’s what I realised:
1. Food labels are holistically meaningless
That free-range egg, that organic butter croissant, that piece of brie from Brittany. All innocuous looking enough. Yet there is also a dark side to such products.
For every chicken or cow that is born and bred to produce eggs or dairy products respectively, a male chick or calf is gassed, shot at birth, or dies by any other grisly means of execution, rendered completely redundant by a system that only focuses on the bottom line and does not value life.
Of course, such practices are born out of practical necessity – to satisfy the insatiable demand by ourselves for certain products, but to me the indirect effect of their consumption means I am contributing to the needless slaughter of millions of innocent animals. Take what you want from that, but in the age of the anthropocene, there are few corners to hide from the suffering that animal agriculture causes.
2. Vegan energy is real energy
It is not often that you get to test yourself physically, and I mean really test yourself. Sure, we can go to the gym, we can take a physically demanding class or we can go for a run. At any point though, we can choose to slow down, rest or even stop all together. However, when we enter the realm of the mountains, such options are pure luxuries…
Last week, I found myself in the Alps, touring up mountains on skis, hiking up ridges at 3,000 metres above sea level, and cross-country skiing through small, snow-covered villages for a significant period of time. Quite frankly, it was extremely physically demanding. To this extent, the strength that I felt during such moments of exertion, knowing all that was sustaining me was pure plant nutrition, gave me so much confidence and a strong conviction that I can choose to eat what I want, rather than slavishly eating foods because I believe they are a necessity. Clear mind, clean eating – eating consciously is only a small step away.
My case study is only one small example. Extreme athlete Scott Jurek’s story, is another. Give it a go, you may be surprised how much energy you may have.
3. Pure consciousness is sublime
When one is asked the question, who are you – the answer is not your body, since your body itself is composed of many parts; and if one answers I am my mind, then they are also not correct, since mind is merely a function of body – many say that mind and body are actually the same.
If I am not my body and not my mind, then what am I? The answer lies in that I am the experience of who I am. That experience is called ‘consciousness’. That consciousness is what we alter when we consume drugs and alcohol.
The effect of alcohol consumption in particular is quite noticeable during times of sobriety, as I just experienced. I would be out at dinners or amongst my companions on my recent ski trip and I would observe their changes in behaviour, speech and general mannerisms as the night progressed. It was very surreal.
As I witnessed such changes, my mind remained very still, focused and calm. In contrast, I observed the ‘hijacking’ of my fellows’ consciousness – taken on a ride, free from whatever anxiety was present at the time, or a ticket to a cheap ‘thrill’ of momentous proportions. Of course, I was looking at a mirror, because this was a mirror of my life up until now, too.
You see, I came to realise when staring into this mirror that while alcohol or other drugs may claim to be ‘relaxing’, opening up other areas of the brain, inducing empathy etc.. they are actually grossly distortive of our true capacity to be. I would be amazed as I sat there and observed those around me as their character changed, sometimes ever so slightly, but subtly enough to realise that they weren’t who they really are in that moment of pure intoxication. In some respects, that intoxication is completely pointless, but we in the West have enshrined the consumption of alcohol as a means of social lubrication.
That’s not to say I now do not condone the consumption of alcohol, but rather I have a fresh perspective on it; a perspective which says I choose to drink with awareness, as opposed to drinking with carelessness.
4. It’s character building
The commitment to not drink during traditional busy drinking periods can be a real test of character. The ego can take a bruising as strange looks are given and insults fly, since the abstinence from drinking is deemed not to be cool for the simple crime of not inebriating yourself with alcohol to your companions’ demand. I experienced this last week as the last week of Dry January fell during the beginning of the mentioned skiing week – a traditional period of heavy drinking, together with the challenge of hanging out with a bunch of people I had never met before.
But with such testing times, I found a new level of confidence – I found myself being more eloquent and my voice became more elevated in the conversation. I revelled in the idiocy of many of the conversations that simply made me laugh. Of course, ‘having a laugh’ is often given as a reason for having a drink, but as I explained earlier, that laugh is based on false pretences.
Rather, by not drinking, we break free from the shield that alcohol provides as we let down our defences and feel more comfortable in the presence of others. We may even feel more inclined to ‘crack a joke’, since it is not the alcohol that makes the joke funny, but for some it is the effect of the alcohol that produces the telling of the joke.
If we define such confidence in the context of the goal that you wish to achieve by not drinking, then a new ‘you’ can emerge, one that is focused and purposeful. Your thoughts and conversation can be more insightful and you can stand proud and calm amongst the ‘carnage’ as those who choose to indulge can fruitlessly do so. Take that feeling away with you into the rest of your life and notice the difference.
5. It takes one step back to realise it’s no way forward
I ended Dry January on the 1st February, as my skiing companions insisted on it. Despite my convictions, I think I would’ve been “crushed” if I maintained my no drinking vigil; and I was on holidays, so really I was in a position where I could let go just a little. So I thought. By day 3 of being ‘on it’ again, I noticed a shift in my awareness – I was tired, I lost focus on my bigger goals and generally was looking to just ‘get by’.
I think that’s quite a common pattern in many people’s lives – The ‘friday feeling’ takes over and the weekend imbibing begins. Some are more disciplined than others, but the periods of rest, recovery and mental fogginess are times that could be spent more productively.
I missed the ‘old me’, even if that ‘me’ was only one month old. I hope to take another rebirth soon. The upcoming Lent period (starting March 1st) is, for example, a traditional time to renounce alcohol, meat or sweets in catholic countries.
So there we have it, folks. An interesting period in my life from which I gained new insights. Such insights have made me stronger, wiser and a better person. I think we all need to go through such phases from time to time, of removing yourself from our social and cultural norms to take a fresh perspective – it’s the god that you don’t know rather than the devil that you do, that is really hidden within.