avocado and mango

In January 2016 I decided to label myself as a vegan. Six months later (ish) in August of last year, I wrote this post detailing my decision to no longer label myself as one. It’s now February 2017 – six months on again – and here are my thoughts.

The key word that comes to mind is choice. Having choice is the most wonderful, encouraging, satisfying, empowering feeling. The truth is that I’ve eaten my way through several dozen eggs, a fish or two and the odd serving of cheese during these six months. But without even realising it, I have gravitated towards entirely plant-based cooking in my own home.

Now it’s six months on, I’m doing a little ‘check up’ on myself to see how I’m doing. The truth is that I feel great. I’m eating almost exactly what I did a year ago, only the difference is that I don’t feel restricted. It all has to do with the label, or rather. lack of.

Six months ago, I did myself a great kindness by lifting the pressure and giving myself the choice to eat what I wanted without feeling like I was breaking the law; my own personal law that is. By simply allowing myself to have the choice to consume animal products if I wanted to, I felt good in the decisions I made to opt for plant-based instead. It was a conscious decision, not a forced commitment. Nowadays, when I have the choice (i.e. when I’m eating at home), I cook plant-based. But if I’m in work and someone brings in treats, or I’m at a friend’s place and he or she cooks a beautiful meal containing some cheese or egg, I gladly accept. The only thing I really draw the line at is meat. I just can’t do that one.

Opening this door for myself allowed me to become flexible and adaptable. I guess one thing I pride myself on is my adaptability. Putting myself on a restricted diet felt like I was going against my values. Sure, I see the environmental benefits, of course. But life doesn’t revolve around me and while I have control over the purchases I make and cook within my own home, part of my life is socialising with other people and so I now feel warmer and more welcoming towards compromising in those situations.

Something funny happened next, after this decision to relax a little bit and give myself choice. I decided to start looking at other areas of my life where I might also benefit from having a choice. You might think of it as me becomming a detective of sorts, pulling out my trusty magnifying glass and seeing where I had choices that were hiding from me. These were areas that I felt bound to and trapped in; areas where I wanted more flexibility.

It started with work. I was working a 40-hour week, Monday to Friday and before that point had never even considered the possibility of reducing my hours. But then I thought: what have I got to lose by asking? I wasn’t asking for a reduction so I could bum around; I was happy to explain that to my boss. Balance was what I was after; more time to do things that mattered to me. I wanted more variety.

The proposal was met with respect and support. Before I knew it, I was down to four days a week. This allowed me a day to do some volunteer work outside in the fresh – albeit brisk at this time of year – air. And then something else happened. I got offered not one, but two other opportunities to do what I love: pursue creativity through my writing.

When the ball started rolling, I suddenly had the overwhelming feeling that this is how life is meant to be lived: with freedom. Freedom is the greatest blessing and also the most notoriously in disguise. Until we see the choices we can make in our everyday lives, we won’t create the space for fulfilling opportunities to walk through the door.

Giving myself a choice last year changed my life. It allowed me to see that my life is ever-changing and that my dreams are possible, if only I remember to pause for perspective every now and then.

Photo via Unsplash

Save

pub

I’m sat on the bus in my usual spot: front right where I’ve got the extra legroom. I use this extra space to stretch free my limbs after a day under the desk – squashed and sedated. The volume in my headphones rises and the drums sound; I’m excited that it’s Friday. I feel like a kid treated with ice cream for passing her test with an A. I feel the reward for the hard work endured. I feel the release from a week spent in suppression.

As we drive the familiar route home, passing the same shops and pubs that we pass every day, I note the Friday excitement in the strangers buying their beers, relaxing in the sunshine and metaphorically letting their hair down in whichever way pleases them best. I sense the air of freedom, the air of quiet rebellion as we weave through the streets. It’s as though everyone stepped off their platform or bus or out of their car sometime after 5pm and through the portal to another realm. In this place we pursue what feels good, whether that’s raucous or restful doesn’t matter; we let ourselves drift in the direction of pleasure, something we forbid ourselves from during the week.

It doesn’t matter what is planned for the following day: what time you must arise, how trying your day might be; it’s Friday and thus anything is possible. You will find a way to cope tomorrow with that which was done today.

The result? Empowerment. You like the challenge and as such you pursue it. You feel the sense of urgency and this pressing presence, this reminder of your mortality that makes you realise that if you do not pursue that which feels good, what else is there? What are you working so hard for each week if not to allow yourself a small release at the end of it?

From this delectable taste of freedom, chaos is born. It emerges in the form of abusing our bodies with substances, lack of sleep, and those dramas of the early hours of the morning that wouldn’t otherwise happen. When we are caged, we abide; when we are free, we spiral.

Friday becomes Saturday and Saturday, Sunday. In the blink of an eye it’s a ‘school night’ yet again and we climb back in our cages, though it does not feel good and prepare for another week ahead. In case you haven’t realised it yet, we – like any other species – were not born in a cage; we do not yearn to be placed in a cage. It is not our natural state and hinders us from doing what we came here to do. And the polarity of our mind-sets between the workweek and weekend only further remind us how bad the suppression makes us feel. Yin and yang: elation and suppression all in one week, every week.

So what is the kind thing to do? What can we do to look after ourselves? If you’ve got the money saved up to support yourself for several months without employment, leave the job you loathe and pursue that which feels good. If you don’t however – which applies to so many of us, particularly those with dependents whom must be supported – use your free time to do that which feels good and only that. Don’t be doing what you think you ‘ought’ to be doing, but do what makes you feel better. If you’re taking care of yourself, what would the best action be right now?

To put it another way: if you have a close friend of yours who is feeling suppressed in their job, they dread going to work and feel depleted when they return, what would you tell them? Think of someone you truly care about; what would you encourage they do in their free time? It would probably be something like: take a class you enjoy, cook your favourite foods, take a warm soak in the bath, pursue that hobby, and do some exercise for stress relief.

If we fill up our free time with that which feels good, this expands into all areas of our lives. It is natural progression; it is the law of attraction. This ‘taking care of ourselves’ spills into what fills the hours of 9-5pm because that’s all that can happen. Pursuing that which feels good becomes second nature, to the point where we must shape our entire lives around this value.

You have nothing to lose by giving this a go.

Freedom

Photos: Nikolas Tusl via Flickr and António Alfarroba via Flickr