At what point is it commendable to abandon a set of morals?
We make a claim, we take a stand and then we feel as if we can never step away, as if we are forever bound to the decision that we have made, the idea that we have professed to be our own or our inherited traditional, self-proclaimed religion.
But is it admirable, it is righteous and worth reward to adhere to a moral that in some way deteriorates your own well-being?
A friend recently asked me if I ate marshmallows.
Let me back track: I’ve been a vegetarian since the age of six when I found out what meat was during a school play of Charlotte’s Web. I remember coming home livid at my mother for “lying” to me, and I proclaimed that I would never eat meat again. And I never did.
But when my good friend, who is a freshman vegetarian and still navigating the allowances that she will incorporate into the delimitations of her vegetarianism, I became impassioned with a desire to tell her to simply live.
I said, at the age of six, that I would never eat meat again, but hypocritically I also claimed that if I ever wanted to eat meat, then I would. I would never withhold from a desire because I had claimed at one time that it was not something that I desired.
Who would I be helping? What cause would I be upholding?
I told my friend that I didn’t go out and buy bags of marshmallows and eat them by the handful, but it’s happened before, while nannying, that my little girl has put a marshmallow into my hot chocolate while I wasn’t looking, as if she was giving me the greatest gift of life.
What am I going to do? Pour my hot chocolate down the drain? Start to explain to her that marshmallows are ground up animal bones when it’s not at all my place to influence any child in any way beyond leading them toward their own decisions?
Am I going to drive myself crazy about a marshmallow that, if I throw in the garbage, is not going to bring back the compendium of animals massacred to make it, is not going to make some grand statement and sure as hell is not going to kill me or destroy my moral character?
She seemed a little shocked: me, the vegetarian since six, ate marshmallows? I shocked her even further when I told her that I had recently started to eat fish. Why? Because I decided one night that I wanted to try it, and so I did.
Did I like it? Yes, it was good. Was it the best thing I had ever tasted in my life? No.
That wasn’t what convinced me to keep eating it. It was that the next day, after going to bed at 1 a.m. (usually I’m in bed at 9:30 p.m.), waking up at my usual 5 a.m., biking 35 minutes to work, practicing Mysore style yoga for two hours and then working a double shift (between two different locations, another 35 minute bike ride away), I didn’t think about food until 4:30 p.m.
The clarity, the level of energy, the profound engagement in my own life that I felt, was phenomenal in way that I never remember feeling before. I wasn’t trying to say that vegetarianism can’t be done absolutely perfectly and in such a way that someone could have this exact experience all the time, but am I going to agonize, slave and spend all of my time preparing meals when there are a host of other daily aspirations calling my name, or am I going to be the most efficient human being that I can be?
I explained to her that fish is the food I am the most picky about, that I only like it raw, that I will only eat wild fish and that I still have reservations and guilt about eating it. However, if I bless it, if I understand my food as an offering to the spirit within me, to the spirit of the universe which gave both the fish and I our own bodies, if I understand the body as nothing but that a body, and I know that the fish wasn’t farmed, wasn’t harbored and produced for death, then I can eat it now and again, as sustenance, as fuel for the only body that is mine to live in.
In the end, I told her everything only mattered as much as she believed it to matter and cared to think that it did. It is of the utmost importance to establish within your own mind your ideologies and morals, but it is equally vital to be flexible to the extent that you don’t drive yourself crazy and make yourself miserable on account of some external thought, idea or action.
Hold on to who you are, but let yourself transform with the passage of time instead of hanging on desperately to one idea you once held on to.
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Assistant Editor: Melissa Petty / Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Flickr Creative Commons