A couple of years ago I decided to find God.
They say that God is everywhere. They also say that our body is a temple. So I decided to find God in the closest place to me. It is a place that I can feel with my heart but I can’t see with my own eyes. I decided to find God inside me.
So I did a drastic thing. I turned vegetarian. On top of that I also cut out all the greasy, chemical-ey, artificial junk that I’ve been eating my whole life. I thought maybe my body was so congested with so much crap that God got lost inside there somewhere.
When I say God, I don’t really mean that guy in a white robe with a radiant halo around his head. Some religious scriptures say that there is a Guru inside everyone of us. Some kind of a Holy Spirit, living in us which was created in the very likeness of God. You might have heard the story of Baby Krishna opening his mouth and inside it was a whole universe. That was the kind of concept I was feeling. I wanted to find the ruler of that universe within me. Simply put, God.
I’m not really religious. But I was feeling lost. And sh*tty about myself. So I was in desperate need of guidance. I couldn’t really count on the chance that something like the Twelve Commandments to suddenly fall down from the sky. My interpretation of this God that lives within us in a simpler language is this: within us there lies our intuition that might lead us to where we need to be. It’s our inner voice that we constantly ignore in our attempt to get on with society and to fit in. Screw fitting in, it was time to make myself heard!
So back to being a vegetarian.
FOOD, CULTURE AND FAMILY
I come from a long lineage of meat eaters. My family is Indonesian, and traditionally, meat has always been the centerpiece of our meals. We limit ourselves to cows and lamb/goat (if it bleats, we eat), also chicken and a bit of fish and other marine friends. I loved them all indiscriminately. I even went for the weird parts – let’s not elaborate on that. My late grandfather refused to give up meat when he found out that his body couldn’t take it anymore. ‘If I can’t eat meat my soul will die and I will suffer a more painful death’ he said. Such is the love for meat in my family.
Okay, I might sound a bit crude. Let me paint a clearer picture about how food is regarded in my family. My family is a bit religious (I would say more culturally so), and food have always been considered a blessing. We treat it with utmost respect. Each meal begins with a prayer. Children were brought up to believe that food CRY if we don’t finish them. It is considered disrespectful to say nasty things or behave insolently in front of food, so please, no arguments at dinner! We make sure that the animals we eat are slain as humanely as possible. Basically food is held with reverence. No food is bad food unless it’s detrimental to your health. Or if it was stolen (bad karma!). So even though I gave in to temptations too often and ate too much at times, my relationship with food has always been amiable.
I was surprised that giving up meat was easier than I thought! The harder thing was coming out. My dad is pretty health conscious so he took on the idea pretty well. My mum just thinks that I am on a diet. I didn’t even try to explain to my extended family due to one occasion when I got labelled a snob when I refused to eat meat. My friends were pretty okay with it, although I had the suspicion that most of them thought I wouldn’t last very long.
Starting out was so much fun. I began to explore foods that I’ve never heard of. I dabbled with new recipes. I also tried to be a responsible consumer and I started shopping at either the organic section when I could. But mostly I stuck to buying local produce. Because life as a vegetarian (and I was also staying away from junk food) could be boring if you don’t explore, I started trying out things that i would never eat. Hello quinoa! Hello fennel! Hello beetroot! Hello you strange purple carrots!
I also felt like I belonged to an exclusive club. I would catch up with fellow vegetarians over meals. We would talk about vego-friendly dining, cooking, convincing our partners to eat more veg if they don’t share the same diet, and we would bitch about paying the same as our meat eating friends when we split bills at restaurants. I imagine newborn religious followers would zealously discuss topics along the same line with their peers (oh how fabulous our lifestyle is and oh how sorry do we feel for others who don’t share our faith).
Soon enough, I was feeling some positive effects from my new lifestyle. Physically I felt like I was over the moon. Yes I was craving for friend chicken from time to time (the hardest thing to forget!), but you get over that kind of stuff if you focus on how good you feel. I had so much energy. I never felt penitent for feeling sickly full after a meal. And I was no longer drowsy and lethargic after a meal.
Mentally and emotionally, it was definitely a whole new level. I get it why people fast or do lent. Being able to say no to temptations and to turn your mind towards something that you actually need rather than want is, my friend, a powerful thing. The more I could resist to giving in to the smells and sights around me, the more determined I became in my daily tasks. I was finding myself jogging at 7am, and god knows I was never a morning person. YEAH! I was a fortress on legs!
Slowly, I got mentally stronger. I was able to walk past a barbecue without my mind reacting to the smell. I could stare at a KFC ad and felt nothing. And when I was unaffected by these external senses, my mind started to be able to discern which ones of the desires I felt was actually coming from what I need (internal) or coming from what I think society thinks I need (external). Before long, my shopping habits also began to change. I no longer succumbed to the allure of a pair of $300 heels that I would never wear. Of course I still have some naughty days where I would indulge, but it was done with awareness. Besides, who could resist a strawberry milkshake after a bad day?
I also started to feel more grateful of the little things that I took for granted. Being presented with a more limited option for food does that to a person, I think. There were times when I’ve attended functions where all I could eat was lettuce and I was looked at with sympathy. Although I really didn’t care. I’d rather come see my peeps regardless of what’s there to eat.
FALLING OFF MY HIGH HORSE
With all the good stuff that was happening to me, and also because I am only human, the glory did get to my head a bit. One day I was invited by my friend to her place for dinner with her family (her mum, her husband, her kid). My friend’s mum prepared her specialty meat dish, and unaware of my diet she eagerly offered it to me. When I rejected her she looked absolutely crestfallen. At that moment I felt horrified with myself. Here was an intricate dish cooked by someone who has welcomed me into her house with utmost hospitality, and did I consider it for a second before I pushed it away?
Ashamed of my insensitivity, I reviewed my ways. Some buddhist monks live on alms and have no choice over what food they eat. How could I act so high and mighty thinking my choices are superior to others when some people don’t even have a choice (insert the usual ramble about hungry kids in Africa here). I wanted to change the way I eat to find the God within me. Snobbery was not part of my plan.
I made up my mind if someone offers me food out of kindness, I would be more considerate and accept (unless if it really is detrimental to my health to do so). Funnily since I made that pact with myself, I was never in such situation again.
COMING FULL CIRCLE, BUT BETTER
Sadly, my dalliance with vegetarianism did not last very long. A few months ago, my health began to deteriorate. I had headaches that were debilitating I couldn’t get anything done. Lethargy. Crankiness. Loss of feeling in my limbs whilst exercising. All that plus the dark eyeballs that made me look like a druggy. After some blood tests, it was discovered that I was low on blood and I was running low on iron amongst other things.
I tried upping the iron pills at first, but my body didn’t seem to absorb much. After a lot of internal monologue – ‘Does this mean I admit defeat?’, ‘What would my vegetarian friends say?’, ‘My non-vego friends would think I gave up.’ , and mainly ‘Will I turn back into the mindless irresponsible eater that I once was if I give in?’ – I accepted that maybe I’m just not built to be a strict vegetarian. With all that generation of meat eating in my family, dependency on meat is probably imprinted in my DNA. And if my body is a temple, and God lives in that temple, I best honour it.
Hence I started eating meat again. Albeit occasionally. And I’m keeping it strict to kangaroo which is highly charged with iron and protein yet it’s low on fat cos it’s so lean (also it’s widely available here in Australia and far more ethical and environmentally friendly – read more here). I also reintroduced fish again. Good for the brain, they say.
How do I feel now? Balanced. I have the energy to do the things I love, and no weird numbness in my feet during card. Did I turn into the mindless glutton that I was before? Nope. My journey have taught me a valuable lesson in mindfulness that I don’t think I could forget. Did I get rid of my sweet tooth? Unfortunately no (chocolate is too good!), but I don’t overindulge like I used to.
But did I find God?
When I looked at my brief time of being a vegetarian, I considered it as my big cleansing period. I was freeing myself not only from the traces of the unnecessary food I’ve been feeding myself, but also from external influences that I’ve mistaken as my identity. In doing so, i felt that I was able to hear myself more clearly. That inner voice is my Intuition. It is the commanding voice of my inner universe. The more I listened to it, the more truthful I stayed to myself. And who am I? Nobody. Just another soul striving to be the very image that it was made from: God.