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Hey there Everyone, I wanted to invite all of you for a discussion about what it means to be Vegan, how it is different from a plant-based diet, and the different reasons we choose to change our lifestyles. I am choosing to start this conversation here because I believe this is a safe-space where we can, hopefully, meet each other with tolerance and non-judgment, recognizing that we are all a PROCESS. What triggered this topic was the recent backlash that an inspirational role model of mine, Fully Raw Kristina, has received for wearing leather shoes during her New Years celebration. Exactly three years ago I started my journey of a vegan diet (which I came to learn over the years is very different from a vegan lifestyle) with the indirect help and support of Kristina through her inspiring videos. I have always been honest about the fact that my Truth is that I transitioned animal meats and animal by-products out of my diet primarily for health reasons because I was suffering from eating disorders for over 7 years (check out my blog with POF sessions from 2013), and secondly for environmental sustainability reasons (as at the time I was undergoing my environmental studies in pursuit of my undergraduate degree) after discovering through facts the impact that an animal-based diet has on our earth and its resources, not to mention climate change. Over the years, this diet has also made me more aware about our choices of steering clear of animal-based products from a more ethical stand point. That being said, I have struggled and still continue to struggle to untangle myself from all non-vegan products. For a long time, my priority was finding the ideal human diet -which consisted of years and years of research, studying books like Dr. Douglas Graham's "80/10/10" diet or Michio Kushi's "Macrobiotic Diet" etc. and experimentation with my own diet through a means of "trial and error". Now, after three years of having stabilized a vegan diet I am realizing that there are always greater depths of awareness to reach...for example, I was not aware that the list of non-vegan clothing extended much further past only leather or fur, and was not acceptable not because it required the death of an animal but rather because the harvesting of the by-product often resulted in unethical treatment or caging of the animals. This list includes: a) silk (because it is made from silkworm larvae), b) cashmere (made from soft undercoats of cashmere goats), c) angora wool (from Angora rabbit), d) alpaca/llama wool (from Camelids), e) down & feathers (90% obtained when birds are slaughtered), f) felt (made from compressed fibers, such as wool or fur), g) wool (from lamb or sheep), h) pearls (because they are produced within the soft tissue of a living shelled mollusk, such as an oyster). I felt extremely overwhelmed and slightly hopeless realizing that there are very few "natural" options of vegan clothing material, such as cotton, linen and denim, that do not include highly unnnatural oil or plastic-based materials like polyester, nylon or rayon etc. I felt overwhelmed because as you start looking around your house or the world, it seems impossible to escape all animal by-products, starting from jewelry, shoes, furniture, leather car seats, car tires, carpets made of wool...the list goes on. Like Kristina, I too have leather shoes, belts and old leather jackets that I had bought many years ago, long before I embarked on a plant-based diet. I keep them in my closet or in boxes, unsure of what to do with all of them, and whether throwing them out or giving them away to a non-vegan instantly rids me of any associations with the animal industry and therefore my "guilt". Three months ago I returned to my home country Lithuania afteer living in New York City for 6 years, and I feel like I have been flung into the past in many ways. For one, I am realizing how deeply-imbedded the leather and fur industries are in Eastern-European and post-Soviet cultures. I was shocked to see that one of the jobs that kept popping up through local job search sites, listed under categories of farming & foresty (closest category to my specialization) was fur animal farm care takers...that made it a lot harder to normalize the prevalence of fur fashion in our society. Fur coats or jackets with fur trim are everywhere, and the stores are lined with hundreds and thousands of racks of such products here. I have worn old fur and leather products that I have owned before over the past few years, but I try not to buy new products. However when my parents tried to force me to buy a new jacket because Lithuanian winters are extremely cold (ie. today it is -15 Celsius or 5 degrees F), and there were literally no options without fur trim, I felt trapped in a factory farmhouse and ended up having a panic attack in the middle of the center, refusing to buy anything at all after breaking down in tears. I have a huge black fur coat that has been hanging in my old closet, that stairs at me every day, and each day I choose to freeze rather than wear it because I don't want to go back into the past. What makes it harder is that I can get rid of these products from my closet, but I am currently living with my family of eastern european non-vegans and I find myself trapped and surrounded by it all...But in all honesty, what holds me back is not imprinting from society (as I have shed that during my 4th and 5th internal monads, I would presume) but rather some idealized idea of a primitive life. I associate fur and leather with warrior tribes, with Vikings and gladiators, with native american hunters...my imagination runs wild as I imagine myself as a warrior princess living in the wild....I recognize that my own biggest challenge is SHEDDING THOSE DELUSIONS and acknowledging that it is a very romanticized view of these products, that most of these animal by-products we see in stores are derived in cruel and unethical ways, that these animals are not shown any mercy or compassion, and that the outlook of the humans who take their lives do so without respect or gratitude for their spirit. We are not going back in time- we will never goi back to living the life of an infant soul where survival was our main lesson- and we are not meant to. We can't be Vikings anymore who pillage cities and kill foreigners without comprehending the sacredness and value of life...the warrior-spirit may have stayed with us from those lifetimes and we may feel like we need to to fight all the wrong in this world and to break the system, but we are PEACEFUL WARRIORS now. We no longer have the luxury to turn a blind eye and pretend that we don't know where the meat, the dairy, the leather or the fur is coming from...I have been GUILTY of this. I still sometimes am, but I am trying to bring LIGHT to those blindspots, and move forward even if only step by step. My point is that this world is transitioning, we are all undergoing our own process because we are ALL a PROCESS, life is a process...and we cannot meet each other with shame and guilt- we need to greet each other with ENCOURAGEMENT out of LOVE for each other, for our bodies, for all animals and for the earth itself. As Michael has said, encouragement is the most positive motivator as opposed to positive reinforcement (prize-motivated) or negative reinforcement (punishment-motivated)- the two forms that have been predominated in society for so long. I recognize my own imperfection, my blindspot towards leather (which I have been attached to throughout my life), but I need to be able to FORGIVE MYSELF for my shortcomings and try to move forward in order to become my HIGHEST SELF- to reach my GREATEST POTENTIAL. I am ready to acknowledge that these things bring down my vibration as a spiritual and sentient human being. I have met many young (old soul) vegans here who are embarking on this journey, and each of us has been integrating this lifestyle to different degrees but we never put each other down, judge one another or show intolerance in the form of aggressive fear-based commentary because we respect each others' journey. Just as we have to learn to respect that each soul, no matter how young, needs to go through their own process (just as we were once young souls) we need to respect where each of us are on our journey towards greater compassion. And I believe that is the only way. To be patient with ourselves and with each other.