For my last blog post of 2017, I wanted to simply speak from the heart. This has been quite a transformative year for me, from going vegan to starting this blog to exploring my spirituality, I've experienced quite a bit of radical change. I can say without hesitation that I'm a completely different person than I was this time last year, and for that I am grateful.
When I first started this blog, my goal was to create a space where I could release myself from societal and self-imposed constraints, where I could let my voice be heard. As this is still just the beginning, I can say that in many ways I've done that, but in many ways I haven't. While I'd like to live life fearlessly, proudly embracing my raw vulnerability, just letting it all out without fear of what may follow, that's all easier said than done.
I would've loved to have written a blog article per week, but many times I'd agonize over a topic or idea so much that I'd eventually shelve it, hoping that one day I'd have enough courage to put it out there. I'll be honest. I didn't expect for my words, my writing, or my experiences to resonate with so many people. I didn't expect to receive all the wonderful feedback that I have received from so many people. While it's been amazing, it's also brought to the surface quite a bit of fear.
Without getting into the details, a lot of honest self-reflection has shown me that there's still a lot of work to be done. Fear is that several-headed monster that never quite seems to die, no matter how valiantly I fight. But I have not and will not be defeated; I'll continue to press on and as I grow, I hope that I can encourage others to grow along with me.
That being said, the biggest lesson that I've learned this year is that change starts from the inside. I can find plenty of idealistic dreamers like myself with their own unique visions of what this world would look like if it were a better place. On some things we'll agree and on others we'll argue. Some of us take to Twitter, while others take to the streets. Some of us want to lend our hand to government while others want to take the entire system down.
While the tactics and methods may differ, we all know that we want better for the world around us. But what about the world within ourselves? How can we make the world a better place if we don't take care of the feet that march, if we don't nurture the body that toils, if we don't tend to the voice that screams? Not to sound cliche, but you truly cannot pour from an empty vessel.
We talk about self-care, but it's more than simply going for the occasional massage or wildin' out to some tunes in your living room. When I first decided to go vegan, it was to me a long-overdue act of self-care: finally taking a look at the state of my health and making radical change in hopes of bettering it. I expected a plant-based diet to help me feel better, but I did not expect the crash course in self-discovery that it would catalyze.
Call it a detox, call it shadow work, call it what you will, but I unexpectedly embarked on a purge of all the bullshit that had been holding me back. It was like the better I felt, the more my body, mind, and spirit craved liberation from all the baggage that I'd been carrying for so long. Childhood trauma, unresolved feelings, unacknowledged pains, unrecognized desires and unchecked bad habits all came rushing to the fore. It became clear that I was embarking on a period of growth and transformation, and I was not allowed to move forward until I sat down with all my shit and truly sorted it out.
I'm still sorting through the shit. But I've come far enough to realize that my very existence, my very way of living in the day to day was greatly influenced by all the stuff I had sitting in my subconscious mind. The way I acted and reacted towards things, my ability to observe, understand and regulate my own emotions, all of this was impacted by unresolved issues that sat quietly in the back of my mind, craftily pulling the strings without my noticing.
Though I'd been in therapy for a few months at this point, I was finally starting to understand what my therapist meant about the "old records" in my mind. Every thing that we do or don't do, all the things that we say or don't say, all the emotions that we feel or don't feel are all influenced by the way we've been conditioned throughout our lives. The limitations we place upon ourselves, the triggers that cause us pain, the irrational reactions that we have to benign situations and things, these didn't just fall from the sky. They're all a reflection of what's been placed within us. If truly understood, this can be used to our advantage, but if ignored, it can be to our detriment.
Going through my own emotional and spiritual changes and realizing how much I can evolve in such a short period of time made me wonder: how can we truly understand and inevitably conquer the darkness around us if we can't even face the darkness within ourselves? I spent so much time railing against the system, so much time steeped in the emotional pain of the world around me, so much time wondering what the hell I did to deserve being cast onto this horrific planet, and all any of that accomplished was a steadily deepening depression. Yes, the world around me was and continues to be horrific in many ways, but the feeling of empowerment only arose once I faced the horrors that toiled within me.
I view the world through an entirely different set of lenses now. I see the programming that implanted fear, hopelessness, lack of self-worth and doubt deep within my psyche. I know where they came from and I recognize them when they come knocking at my door, ready to take control. I see the ways that my emotions are constantly being toyed with and manipulated for the sake of perpetuating corporate profit or for someone's individual gain, even in the most minuscule of ways. So much used to feel like a personal attack, but now I try to take very few things personally. I see the world for what it is but I no longer allow it to shake the peace inside of me. Yes, there are hard days, but hard days are much better than weeks and months of pure emotional despair.
More importantly, I see the ways in which my own personal issues shaped my tolerance and lack thereof, and I do suspect that many others will find that to be true of themselves. While I considered myself more socially progressive than most, I came to realize that on many occasions, my own personal pain caused me to dismiss certain individuals based on what I considered to be their own backwards or regressive ideologies. While I still hold no space for hatred or violence, I'm much more willing to try to understand where people are coming from, even if I don't agree.
Maybe the most catalyzing change came from facing the realization that in all my despair surrounding human lives I had very little regard for non-human life. My Sociology degree meant that I could tell you all the ins and outs of systemic oppression but I ignored the very blatant patterns of oppression that exist in animal agriculture. Why? Because it implicated me. It made me complicit in perpetuating the same system of oppression from the very same oppressors that I actively denounced. It forced me to face the limits of my empathy and compassion, limits that I did not believe existed. An entirely new world opened up once I faced the oppressor within myself.
We're living in a time when division is rampant, and purposefully so. Marginalized identities are being played against each other for corporate and political gain. Like a fiddle, peoples' pains are being toyed with, by advertising, politics, media programming and fake online bots alike. Tempers and tensions are at very high highs, flaring up at the slightest provocation. We're not at peace as a collective, and we won't be until we can find it within ourselves. Rather than being unconsciously told who and what to hate, we'll be much more concerned with figuring out how to expand love, both within and outside of ourselves.
So how can we make the world a better place? We begin with ourselves. We find the demons that lurk within our soul and face them head on. We take our problems and pull them out by the root rather than dragging them along by the branches. When we can reach that level of understanding, of who we are and why we are the way we are, then forgiveness of self and others can begin. When we no longer shy away from that which ails us, when we've stared it down and refused to allow it to control us any longer, then we can begin to look at what ails the world. Until then, we'll simply continue aimlessly trying to quench the thirst of an ailing world from an empty cup.
My name is Nivea, but you can call me Niv. Proudly hailing from the Boogie Down Bronx. My lifelong passion for social justice issues led me to earn a BA in Sociology from Columbia University. Currently I'm an NASM Certified Nutrition Coach & Personal Trainer with a love of all things plant-based. I'm just here, eating my plants, minding my business, and trying to find a peaceful path in a hostile world.