I immediately chose to stop eating meat. Perhaps it was my first conscious, completely independent choice to do something that was good for me. Although I was not awake to the significance of my choice, vegetarianism actually became my first spiritual practice. It required discipline, intention, patience, and a willingness to let go of my ingrained eating habits. My friends and my family taunted me, but I repeatedly chose to uphold my conviction. By reacting against the socialization and conditioning that had become a part of me, I was beginning to create a new and unique center of myself; and it felt empowering.
At the time, I was not aware enough to realize how severely my other habits of smoking, drinking, and using drugs were harming me, and I continued using these substances. However, the seed for making life-giving choices had been unmistakably planted within me, and it was stirring.
The YM/YWCA in Dubuque, IA is a seemingly unlikely place for enlightenment to begin, and the impact of this experience went unrecognized for over 3 decades. I now understand that during this class I was blessed by the movement of grace and experienced one of my first stirrings of spiritual desire. I was a beginner – an innocent, a novice – blindly stepping onto the path, opening to lessons about the seriousness of my choices, and learning that my choices mattered for me and for the world. Eventually learning more about the health, environmental, and social consequences of vegetarianism, I chose to continue this practice for over thirty years. Although, for many of those years I was unconsciously using food as a form of self-medicating away enormous emotional pain.