My personal journey to veganism began with a number of twists and turns. When I first learned of the concept, I asked questions of the people I knew who were practicing some form of ‘veg*nism.’ What I found was that there was a sliding scale of dedication, and I’m saddened by the fact that my personal commitment was greatly influenced by this. Once I got on the right track, however, not only have I never looked back, but I continue to look forward with hopefulness about the opportunities for enhanced clarity, deeper understanding, and a greater sense of inner peace than I knew was possible in this troubled world.
When I was 19, at a Millennium festival in New Zealand, I attended a workshop facilitated by the founders of Gentle World. They described veganism as ‘the keystone’ in the foundation of their belief system, and pointed to their commitment to shared principles as a reason for the group’s longevity, as they were still living and working cooperatively long after many of the communes from that same time had been left in the dust of disappearing sixties ideals.
Even now, after more than 20 years of being a part of this vegan intentional family myself, I distinctly remember my impression of these two inspiring figures at our first encounter: They belong to a place where they feel safe. I want to go where they come from.
A few months later, I visited Shangri-La, Gentle World’s 454-acre secluded haven in the Far North. This visit turned out to be the precursor to my decision to join the community – a move I made around six months later.
I didn’t realize it at first, but at the time of my visit, the fields and rivers had only recently been liberated from shackles of barbed wire fencing. This was a reminder of the land’s former life as witness to an (albeit bucolic) animal slavery operation, and it had all been lovingly removed, one post at a time, and the barbed wire banished in a gigantic burial.
I was beginning to learn that this remarkable band of dedicated and hard-working individuals was deeply committed to the ideal of nonviolence. I was told that along with the (literally miles of) barbed wire, they had also made it a top priority to dismantle the structures left over from the land’s animal harming past. By the time I had the chance to lay my eyes on the sites where they once stood, ‘The Wool Shed’ and ‘The Not-OK Corral’ had been transformed into orderly piles of re-useable lumber; scraps of life-as-it-once-was that might one day be used to help build life-as-it-should-be. Some of the finest pieces had been used to construct a simple but beautiful fireplace mantle in the communal house – a fitting symbol of the hope to be found in somehow exorcising the terrible history of these materials by using them at the center of something so new and promising.
My mind was beginning to open up to the idea that there just might be a better way to live; not only in my imagination, but in reality.
At the end of the same year, I found myself visiting Gentle World again, this time at their educational center in Hawaii. I was part of the volunteer team for an event where one of the founders was delivering a powerful presentation, and I remember clearly that I felt my perception change in an instant. She said one thing that I will always remember the essence of: ‘I can’t stop the animal industry from killing and torturing and enslaving animals… But I can stop myself from being a part of it. They’re not doing it for me.’
All of a sudden, something in me shifted. The false beliefs I had been holding on to: that I already understood who animals really are, that I already knew what veganism was and that I had already reached the understanding I needed… it all just dropped away, to be replaced by a feeling of such relief, such freedom, and such gratitude for the realization that I actually had the power to liberate myself from the guilt and confusion that had been stopping me from moving forward.
Since that day, I have been more committed to the goal of building a vegan world than I have ever been to anything. As the years go by, I continue to be humbled by new realizations that allow my understanding to deepen and expand, and with every day that passes with the animals still in captivity, my determination gets even stronger to do the very best I can to help bring about their liberation.
It remains a tremendous privilege to spend my time and energy helping others to have the Gentle World experience, whether in person or through our online portal, through which we try to open the minds and hearts of all who might find themselves wandering through.
As we look into the future, impatient and anxious, yet always hoping that emancipation might just be closer than we think, my wish for those of us who call ourselves vegan is that we are able to somehow become even better at reaching out to those who are yet to be convinced, yet to be awakened to the profound truth of what veganism really means: for us, for the animals, and for life as we know it.
I believe we must always be striving to reach the next turning point, the next new horizon in our worldview, for so many are depending on us. And for them, for the sake of the innocent beings who remain unrecognized by a world blind to their true value, we must be the very best that we can be. Only then will we be capable of doing the very best that we can do.