I spent my childhood and teenage years in the wild west where all the men are men, the sheep are nervous and the women have to be macho to survive.
I lived in a world where Bach, Mozart and Beethoven didn’t exist. The only culture was rodeo, and the occasional circus. The sole entertainment in town was the local bar; cable TV was unavailable; the only movie theater was 10 miles away.
Thank God, I had my horse companions.
Although, I didn’t grow up on a farm, I was surrounded by them and never had to worry about trespassing on a neighbor’s property. The people in Montana were (I left in 1985 at the age of 19, and have only been back once in 1996) always extremely friendly and opened their doors to complete strangers without hesitation.
In fact, no one I knew ever locked their doors.
However, this incredible openness towards other humans never extended to any other species.
I was taught to believe that animals were here for our use and that animals didn’t feel pain or have the capacity to feel any emotion like we can.
Cats and dogs—like every other animal—never entered the house, even during the most brutal winter days.
Everyone loved fishing or hunting with a bow and arrow or gun. Everyone ate steak and eggs for breakfast. Everyone ate meat three times a day, and everyone’s father, brother or sister brought home freshly killed deer or elk or even antelope.
I even went through the firearm safety class at school, but was never interested in using a gun for any purpose.
My girlfriends learned to hunt and would love to brag to you about their abilities to shoot a deer or an elk. The boys our age would shoot gophers and rabbits for fun.
And, even though I didn’t hunt, I did partake in the horrors of animal slaughter by occasionally stoning to death a rattlesnake and then cutting off the rattles to bring home as a souvenir. Talk about disconnection. I was the epitome of it.
I loved the countryside and the freedom of the open space.
I spent my carefree days competing in barrel racing, pole bending and endurance races with my horses. I even went to rodeo Bible camp one summer and learned how to torture a poor goat by tying all of its legs together—one of the “feminine” rodeo events. Meanwhile, the boys abused the rest of the animals: roping calves, riding bulls and broncs and wrestling steers.
Often, I would ride my horse to school. I could leave my horse in a friend’s nearby corral or even staked out on a rope in the school’s football field. No one ever bothered my horses, as horses were not a novelty to them.
However, vegetarianism was a novelty. In fact, it didn’t exist where I grew up.
I cannot remember meeting one single vegetarian until I was in my twenties and far away from the Big Sky country.
I stopped eating meat when I was 18, while I was attending Montana State University. Oh, and guess what I was studying—animal agriculture.
Amazing. I wanted to live out my days on a bucolic farm herding up the sheep and cattle.
I didn’t stop eating meat because I knew any better. I stopped eating it because I didn’t like the taste and I wanted to be thin.
Do you know what Rocky Mountain Oysters are?
Well, they are a delicacy to every Montana cowboy.
I was so disconnected as a child and teenager, it didn’t phase me to see vulnerable calves, cruelly roped and hurled onto the rocky, unforgiving ground.
Are you ready for what comes next, guys?
With no anesthesia, the calf’s testicles are then cut off—but the pain and torture isn’t finished yet. A metal rod with the ranch’s insignia is heated in a fire and then jammed into the calf’s sensitive skin to brand him or her as a piece of the ranch’s property.
Well, now you know.
After the masochism is over, the cowboys celebrate by dining on their fresh Rocky Mountain oysters.
Are you repulsed at the thought of eating a calf’s testicles? Why? Did you ever think about how much the culture we live in influences our dietary choices?
This is why there are books to help us understand, like Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism by Dr. Melanie Joy.
My road to being an ethical vegan was neither short nor easy.
After I attended college for a year, I decided I wanted to ride horses for a living and moved to Florida to take part in the egregious thoroughbred horse racing industry.
I rode racehorses and traveled around to different tracks in the US , then in France and Italy for five years. Never once did the thought cross my mind that there was anything wrong with keeping animals locked up in a 10 by 10 foot box 23 hours a day and then letting them out for an hour to run around in a circle.
Writing this article forces me to confront the atrocities I have been a part of in my life and enables me to empathize with people who aren’t yet connected to the whole of life.
While riding the horses to me at that time was great fun and not work at all, I knew I wanted to do something more with my life.
After coming back from Europe in 1990, I decided to have an HIV test, not because I thought I might have it, but because a person I had been in a relationship with told me he always had tests for everything when he returned home to Sweden after his yearly travels.
Guess what? I was HIV positive. At that time, there was no medication available, and you had a life-expectancy of a few years—at best.
I love to blame this vicissitude of my life on my lack of education.
At school, I vividly recall how the forest ranger tucked himself into a tight ball to demonstrate how to protect your internal organs in case of a grizzly bear attack; however, no one ever demonstrated how to properly use a condom to protect ourselves from STD’s. Afflicted by ignorance and cognitive dissonance, I eliminated the only fear traversing my mind with a simple birth control pill.
The devastating, surreal news of my HIV status catapulted me back to school.
I had planned on traveling around the world with some friends, but instead I moved back home with my parents. To make a long, boring, story shorter. I graduated in 1995 with a Master’s degree in physical therapy. I had to quit working as a physical therapist in 2000 due to the treatment for AIDS and the chronic fatigue which prevented me from functioning well enough to work.
Now, you understand why the road was neither short nor easy.
Over the years, I have battled with opportunistic infections and medications that I must take if I want to remain in this physical form.
It has only been through the sincere practice of yoga and its philosophy that I have been able to open my heart and to understand that we are all one.
I wrote a poem in 2000 that guides me to this day:
This disease is really a blessing in disguise.
A gift bestowed upon me to open my eyes to the true reality of life forever existing behind the
Veil of limited perceptions.
Fortunately, the seemingly, unwelcome, unsolicited visitor arrived to liberate me from
Endless cycles of redundant misery.
Steadily opening, finally, is my cold, wounded heart to all God’s creation and its innate divinity.
Finished are years of frantically rushing needlessly from place to place worrying whether
Culture and society accept me and all that I embrace.
Skillfully was I awakened from my deep, tenebrous slumber to the epiphany of my numbered days.
I fear no more the limits of my time here, but instead I cherish each and every moment and
Opportunity to learn, and to grow and to evolve my soul.
I follow the path that releases one from corporeal death’s inevitable grasp and the
Quenchless desires that chain one to earth’s abysmal mire of poignant pain and sorrow and
Ephemeral happiness that speciously promises an ever better morrow.
Immortal are we, and “love” and “oneness” are the keys that will set us free into the
Ineffable, supernal bliss of Universal Consciousness.
I finally became an ethical vegan in 2001 due to the blessings of two things:
- An open heart cultivated through a sincere yoga practice.
- Vegan friends who were not afraid to speak up to educate me about the inherent cruelty, suffering and destruction in every animal product available on the market.
Inspired by my vegan friends and their dedication to talking about such important issues, I have been running a campaign to help the Wanderlust Festival evolve to being cruelty-free or at least vegetarian.
I feel this is extremely important because Wanderlust is a hugely popular and growing festival that could positively influence countless people to help create a better world for all of us. (Please see my previous article: “Are Yoga Festivals Evolving into Mindless Meat Fests?“)
I have had very little support from the yoga community in this campaign.
I believe most teachers are afraid of losing students by taking a stand on the issue.
I am not asking anyone to change their diet, although my greatest wish in life is for a vegan world.
I am asking everyone to be open to being informed about our dietary choices.
I am asking teachers to uphold the keystone of yoga philosophy—ahimsa—by not teaching at festivals that are not at least vegetarian.
I am asking everyone of you who takes the time to read this article, to deeply contemplate what you believe in, and why.
Don’t be just another automaton completely oblivious to your self-induced chains.
Determine who you are and stand up for who you are.
I feel at the core of my being that I must stand up for those innocent victims who are unable to stand up for themselves. Don’t wait for the world to change. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
I hope we will all reach the nirvana of our dreams.
Meanwhile, may we strive to be positive, loving and respectful of all life and the diversity of all creation.
Kim Amlong has a Master’s degree in physical therapy and practiced physical therapy for five years. A devoted practitioner of yoga since 1997, she completed the Iyengar yoga teacher training program with Patricia Walden (her primary teacher) and assisted Patricia Walden with her classes for two and a half years. Kim has been an avid student and practitioner of qigong since 1999 and has completed courses in Kripalu and Para yoga. Kim served as the Director of Teachers for five years at Karma Yoga Studio in Cambridge, Massachusetts. During that time, she studied with Jesse Winder (owner of Karma Yoga Studio), and acted as a consultant, as he developed his own style of yoga, PhysioYoga. Kim has a keen interest in energy awareness and its health benefits and teaches an eclectic style that emphasizes anatomical alignment, relaxation, breath, body and energy awareness in a joyful, inspiring atmosphere. Kim encourages students to question everything and to feel confident in exploring postures best-suited to their individual needs and goals. She loves sharing the transformative benefits of yoga and qigong with everyone who is interested, and follows a vegan diet for her health, the animals and the planet.
Editor: April Dawn Ricchuito
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