When I first started to produce art for a living, sheep were my chosen subject so often that I became known in some circles as ‘the sheep painter’. All my life, I’ve had a special place in my heart for sheep – and yes cows, horses, pigs, dogs, cats, elephants; in fact I love all animals and can’t help but connect deeply with them, sensing the inherent intelligence, the unique personality that they are – but something about sheep grabbed me very early on, back in the days when I used to doodle them on all of my school books.
When you live in a semi-rural place like Berkshire, there are sheep to be seen everywhere then, of course, lambs in Springtime. When my daughter was (actually, not so) little, we would seek out local farms opening up for lambing days and spend the day sat on hay bales cuddling and bottle feeding orphans. Each lamb had its own distinct personality so we always had our favourites, gave them names, learned to recognise their foibles. Then we would watch the ceremony of birth as another ewe had her moment, as the tiny bundles were licked cleaned for their first eye-blinking view of the world, as they stood on wobbly legs and headed to the teet for the universal mother-child bonding to take place. Other ewes would seem to pause and watch in reverence as this took place and no less would the crowds of people – families with young children – standing by in yaw-dropped, mesmerised adoration and then outcries of joy and delight. I would come away from those days with my heart brimming over with love and awe, my clothes holding the gentle perfume of newborns and lanolin, carrying the imprint of their warm little bodies and fast beating hearts, the precious flash-backs to so many pairs of eyes gazing up at me before they surrendered into trustful doze in the crook of my arm. Those life-affirming days were such a joy.
Wherever there were lambs I was there with my camera, I simply couldn’t get enough of them. First come the tiny dots of white sat close to mother, sleepy-serene, with still expectant ewes stood quiet in respectful waiting. Then come the days of burgeoning confidence as minxy lambs start to interact across family groups until, suddenly, they are all running around in playful gangs, racing and climbing on anything that looks like a slope or a stump, throwing comic stunts and mad leaps of exhilaration in the air, curious about everything. Later, sturdy woollen-suited youngsters with bright-knowing eyes relax into their surroundings and you can feel their appreciation of those self-same things that I most appreciate in this life-experience; the sun and morning dew, the birdsong, the shade and rustle of summer tree and the gentle companionship of family. I don’t know what I imagined of sheep when the culturally-painted idea of flocks of them standing around looking rather vacant was fed to me as a city-dwelling child but this wasn’t it. These highly-aware parents with their watchful gaze, their stamp of the foot at anyone coming too close, their no nonsense rounding-up of offspring that wander off too far, their faultless instincts and gentle pride, curiosity and obvious attachment to each other, their obvious character, the way they almost smile in appreciation of a beautiful day with the sun on their backs…these weren’t it either. The more time I’ve spent with these creatures (and no less cows or pigs), the more I have come to know and respect them as the intelligent consciousness, the living awareness, the gentle love that they are.
Then, in 2012, I became a vegetarian and everything changed. Perhaps, given the way I felt about animals, you might expect that I would have made the change long before that but I didn’t and have asked myself why many times. Two things come to mind and they boil down to convenience and denial. Like many people, I told myself by culturally-indocrinated rote that life as a vegetarian would marginalise and exclude me, would be an inconvenience to both me and everyone around me, would leave me malnourished and sickly, unable to find or enjoy good food ever again. It would be a life sentence, a surrender of liberty and joy. I was also living under a thick heavy blanket of self-denial; I knew, roughly, what farming for meat entailed but hadn’t allowed myself to go very deeply into this at all, or to join it up what I did know with the fate of these beautiful animals I love so very much; I simply wouldn’t allow myself to know or explore this because, I realised, if I did so I would open the door to an unbearable truth, would be trapped in vegetarian-land forever and there would be no going back without terrible self-reproach.
Yet as I opened my consciousness wide to everything else, letting the light shine into all the corners of my own awareness, the contrast with this one area of my life felt more and more like a growing tumour hidden in a dark corner of my existence, a dark anomaly; it simply didn’t fit with who I had allowed myself to become as a human being. The more I learned about the love that I am, the less this felt like an expression of that; for here was this gross inconsistency playing out in my body and my energy field and I couldn’t just ignore it. The more I came to realise the extent to which we really are what we eat, vibrationally as well as in terms of nutritional building-blocks, the less the way my food made its way to my table felt appropriate or like it fit with who I am.
My very acute senses began to play with this open doorway. The similarity between the very particular, gently addictive scent of newborn lamb that made my heart fill with love, the feel of their soft fleshy ribcages beneath my hands as I lifted them on and off my lap to hold a bottle to their lips and the fleshy texture and distinct aroma of the meat I prepared for dinner became too acute to ignore. The familiarity with their form, drawn minutely with pencil or brush, began to equate with cling-wrapped packages in the supermarket and those aisles became the horror show I avoided. The lambswool rugs that appeared in my local farmshop in Spring had me reaching out to fondle them and to long for those lambing days yet…there was no mistaking that the shape and the proportions of this frippery for someone’s bedroom floor matched the shape and proportions of these little souls I hankered to hold and it sickened me to my core, not least because I felt all alone and suspended in this slow-motion bubble of awareness watching the complete oblivion of those who passed by the display or cheerfully bought their spring lamb for Sunday roast. This used to be me, asleep in not feeling it, not at least questioning it – not asking “Is this alright, do I support this, do I sign my name to it, is it me? Why doesn’t anyone else seem to notice what’s going on here?”
For three years of choosing to be a vegetarian, I’ve fought an inner battle not to become one of those hostile, accusatory, horror-sharing, in-your-face veggies who only turn off and alienate those who might be inclined to ponder what they have to say if only it was said differently. The inner conundrum – how to broach this without judgement, without blame, with just optimism in my arms to offer out towards people as we approach the possibility of a choice point to do things differently – has struck me nearly silent on the subject so I’ve said very little. Lately my own muteness has become a dead-weight to me, another inconsistency with my soul, part of the reason I find I can’t look these beautiful creatures in the eye anymore….I SEE their fate yet I say nothing; but where to even start? Perhaps with what comes into my mind like a shock wave whenever I allow myself to see them; thoughts like these…
If children or horses or dogs were being reared for just a few weeks then dragged panic-stricken from their traumatised parents and their love of, and entitlement to, life to be forcibly separated from their consciousness-in-living-form, their bodies treated as a commodity, dispatched in the most horribly cruel way imaginable, their bodies portioned off and packaged in cling wrap to be displayed in chiller cabinets to beings who disassociate them from the living-conscious thing they came from, we would be horrified, would raise alarms, would want no part in it, would be stridently opinionated about ending it, right? As the conscious, loving, aware, observant, comparison-making being I have become, I simply can’t reconcile how this is perceived to be any different. Or, as someone who eats at least as well and often far better than everyone I know and who is enjoying the best nutritional health of my life, how ‘a meal’ of flesh is still considered crucial enough that the current state of convenient ignorance at the heart of our whole culture around food choices has become a diligently protected and maintained thing, the very foundation of an inherited belief system that is dutifully doled out by most parents from birth, becoming one of the hardest habits to break for those who are even remotely open to questioning it (such is the societal pressure to conform). In fact, so little questioning of the practice of eating meat occurs in our society that, forty years after its first wave of popularity, vegetarianism is still broadly presented as socially unacceptable, laudable and downright kooky behaviour, for all its proponents present an overwhelmingly positive picture of the benefits. We all know why, really, and it comes down to large-scale vested interest in the meat-market and its off-shoots, not our wellbeing, our health or the long-term matter of caring for this planet.
Also, maybe I just start doing what feels right by getting my thoughts out there, by sharing what I see through these images and through my art, by sharing the LOVE. By appealing to the deep current of love that is humanity. By speaking my truth. Take it or leave it.
No less than is the case in our individual healing process, while we deny our darkest corners, our pockets of shame and dis-ease with things, keeping them locked up inside the body of humanity, working to keep them from the light that would force us to look at what we don’t want to deal with, we hold ourselves at arms length from our own healing as a planet. We simply can’t maintain this mass oblivion, this denial, this not wanting to know, this shunning of responsibility (while, in our heart of hearts, we all know what’s really going on) and yet be our lightest selves; the two states aren’t compatible, they live in fundamental separation. To get even close to wholeness, there needs to be a shift into full awareness and responsibility and then a conscious choice to continue with this way of life or discard it; not this perpetual state of denial and simply not wanting to know…which our bodies negate because we all know, in our cells, what we are doing, what we are taking into ourselves as the building blocks of our bodies and all the steps that brought it to our plate. This denial is not an evolved way to be and literally feels like a dead weight around humanity. The problem isn’t whether we do or we don’t eat meat, its how aware we are of all that is involved in the process; if we do this thing in ignorance then we are locking part of ourselves down, handing over our responsibility and our power to others who decide how and why this should be done. Eat meat if you want to…but know exactly what this involves, what this really is, what sacrifices were made and what suffering gone through to provide you with this option and be comfortable with this at every level. And if it makes you uncomfortable – well, then, stop. Then, and only then, can there be health in the true sense, the deepest sense. If we, each of us, made this conscious choice for ourselves, the mass production aspect of the meat industry, thus the very worse aspect of it, would be made obsolete as people followed their most aligned truth in the choices they made so, already, this would be a more evolved situation, a step towards the healing of a planet.
I could say so much more but will stop there except to add that becoming a vegetarian has been the best decision of my life, like an unseen weight was disengaged from my cells and so they literally began to feel lighter, with the potential to become infinitely lighter still. I love my super-varied and flavoursome diet and its never felt more life-affirming, balanced or healthy. The most healing years of my life have occurred since I made the decision and my body has never been in better shape.
The weight is no longer inside my cells; its in my heart and for two lambing seasons I found myself avoiding them utterly, capturing just the occasional, opportunist picture from afar but no longer (perhaps ironically) able to get really close or look them in the eye, knowing what I now allow myself to fully know about their fate, what lies ahead for them. I feel as though they would read all this in my heart, now that I’m no longer able to sustain the lie even to myself. Yesterday, I broke that stalemate and spent over an hour taking these photographs from the edge of a field. So, the choice was that I could just share them with the world and tag them ‘cute lambs’ and leave the status quo alone, or I could say what I’ve said above…and you can see which way it went.
Right behind this post is the knowing I have now reached that to be spiritual, and so to get the bigger picture and know that the particular life we find ourselves in is a choice we have each taken, is not to have to profess that I have no opinions or to pretend that everything is alright just the way it is; we came here to shine the particular light of our soul and that’s what I’m doing, no compromise or apology. I am getting fed up with the popular line (the excuse), in ‘consciousness’ communities, that we’re not really here, its all just a game, an illusion, and that death is just a transition between particular lifetimes that are selected at source so nothing really matters. That feels like its missing the point entirely; we chose this game in order to explore and express and so get closer to the light, the love, that we are and I’m doing that, through all of my choices and just a little more every day.
This post had barely surfaced in my thoughts when I tripped upon a quote from Richard Bach in the book I’m currently reading, “Bridge Across Forever”, and I had to smile as Bach expresses my position perfectly so a good way to sign off:
“Once I would have ordered bacon or sausage for this meal, but not lately. The more I had come to believe in the indestructibility of life, the less I wanted to be part of even illusory killings. If one pig in a million might have a chance for a contemplative lifetime instead of being skrockled up for my breakfast, it was worth swearing off meat. Hot lemon pie any day.”