If you're on a spiritual path, you likely feel that it's your responsibility to make the world a better place — to change it for all humanity! I am one of those people. In fact, I live by this quote from Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
If you take a minute to digest this, it's actually saying that you must change yourself, and then by your personal transformation, you will be changing the world.
Nowhere in this quote — or in any of the teachings of the great masters, saints, and mystics — do they say to make changes in yourself and then set about to change all the people around you!
This is a hard truth for us to swallow: be the change, but then let go, letting your personal transformation be enough to encourage others. So often, when we are on a path of change and growth, we feel it's necessary to announce what we're doing and why to all those around us. We may even go a step further and tell them why they should be considering our way of life, too!
I am a spiritual teacher and coach and have been on a path of self-discovery for the past 30 years. I started this journey as a result of suffering from bulimia. I checked myself into a treatment center in 1984 and came out an inspired, thoughtful, and energetic person ready to change myself completely so that I could make a huge impact on the world around me.
I studied, read, and went on retreats for decades. On one particular retreat in 1997, a miraculous thing happened to me. When I arrived at the retreat, I learned that they only served vegetarian food.
Well, I had grown up near Chicago, in a meat-and-potatoes household. Remember, back in the 60s and 70s, there was little talk of farm animal welfare, the dangers of hormone and antibiotic use in animal husbandry, or diseases related to the overconsumption of meat. In high school, I had worked for McDonald’s and later owned several McDonald’s restaurants. So giving up meat never crossed my mind!
While on this retreat, it actually didn’t faze me that I would not be eating meat. Given how I’d grown up, this still surprises me to this day. I left that retreat and haven’t eaten meat since — 17 years now!
I went home and practiced all of the things I had learned, including being a vegetarian. When I fixed meals for my husband and daughter, I would prepare meat- or fish-based dishes for them and a vegetarian option for myself. I didn’t announce what I was doing or what I believed; I just lived it.
Three years later, my husband realized I wasn't eating meat. One night at dinner, he asked, “Why aren’t you eating the same meal we are?”
“I haven’t eaten meat for three years!” I said.
“It’s not something I wish to do anymore.”
“Because of a diet?”
“No," I said, "Bcause of the animals.”
And that was it.
Here I am, 17 years later, continuing to quietly change myself and, as result, the world — for the sake of the animals. I don’t know why becoming a vegetarian touched me so deeply; it hasn’t been a decision I’ve revisited or nor has it been a struggle over the years. Something deep within me took place at that retreat, and here I am today.
For me, being a vegetarian isn’t about making a statement or trying to sway others to follow my path. I strongly believe that we effect change in ourselves and the world — not by making those around us feel bad for their choices or by preaching our beliefs to them — but by earnestly living our lives as authentically as we can and allowing others to do the same.
My husband is not a vegetarian, but my respect for the animals has rubbed off on him. He’ll even go out of his way to release lizards that get caught in our house before our cat gets to them!
I realize that being a vegetarian or having other dietary preferences might sometimes make dining out with others an uncomfortable experience, something we all want to avoid at mealtimes!
If you are a vegetarian or have made other food decisions, and you want to enjoy dinners out without getting into a debate or making them feel uncomfortable for their choices, here are some of my suggestions:
1. Check out the menu ahead of time.
Call ahead and find out if they offer vegetarian options or if they can prepare a vegetable plate. Remember, it’s the company you are with (not the food!) that matters most.
2. Respect other people’s choices.
There are many choices people make in life that would not be my choice, but I don’t make it a practice to point it out to them, especially when it comes to food. Choosing to eat meat or not is a very personal decision.
I like to think of mealtimes, time spent in restaurants with friends, as special — precious moments nourishing my body with food and nourishing my heart with people I care about. When I look at it from this vantage point, I am in a space of openness for others and myself.
3. Don’t announce your meat-free status.
I don’t go out of my way to say I’m not ordering meat. I look over the menu and choose a meatless dish. It’s really as simple as that.
4. Be open if asked about your vegetarianism.
I don’t hide the fact that I am a vegetarian, of course. If someone at the table expresses curiosity about my meal choice, I keep my response simple: “Oh, yes, I am a vegetarian.” And I always say it with a smile. Then we move on to another topic. If the person is interested in knowing more, we can always revisit the conversation at a later time.
Next time you’re out to dinner or in a conversation, stay grounded in your own beliefs and opinions, while allowing others to have theirs. In this way, you are quietly being the change you so passionately wish to see — with love.