For those of us attempting to live a mindful lifestyle, determining whether a particular behavior supports that way of life is not always straightforward. It would certainly make things simpler if our day-to-day behaviors fell neatly under the categories of “mindful” or “not mindful.” But, of course, this is not the case. For example, the roles of both weed and meat in a mindful lifestyle have popped up in the blogosphere this week. Take a look at this article in Yoga Journal and this one in Elephant Journal. The question these articles ask is whether we can indulge in weed or meat, respectively, while maintaining a mindful lifestyle. In my mind, the answer lies with our intention.
Meat is truly a hot topic in the world of mindful living. Many claim that eating meat cannot be in line with a mindful lifestyle because it requires the taking of life. However, I believe it is our treatment of and attitude towards the animals in question that determines whether our eating habits are ethical. In nature, predators kill and eat prey all the time and we do not condemn them for it. Of course, humans are more intelligent than animals and we have discovered ways of getting our protein and nutrient intake from other sources. But I for one am not convinced that a vegetarian diet is right for all body types, though there are many who would argue with me and I respect their opinions and their commitment to the treating animals ethically.
What is hugely important is how the animals are treated. In my mind, there is nothing inherently immoral about eating meat – but it is absolutely wrong to mistreat the animals we consume. It is our responsibility to make sure that, when we purchase meat, the animals have been allowed to live as nature intended. And it is equally important that we are grateful to the animals we consume – that we refrain from mindlessly scarfing down a McDonald’s hamburger in the car, without giving a thought to the animal that gave its life for us or how that animal was treated. It is, therefore, the kind of meat we choose to consume and the intention behind eating that meat that determines whether the practice is ethical and mindful.
Similarly, regarding weed, yes it alters one’s mental state. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It has even been argued that the kind of altered state that pot smokers experience can sometimes give them a perspective that can inform a meditation practice. Of course many would vehemently dispute this, and I am not necessarily saying I agree with such claims. It is a highly personal matter. But the point is, it is a person’s reason for smoking weed that determines whether it detracts from his or her ability to live mindfully.
A person who smokes weed recreationally – simply for enjoyment – probably has little to worry about in terms of maintaining mindfulness. However, those who become emotionally dependent upon it are certainly not leading mindful lives and may be using weed as a band-aid to avoid examining the underlying issues. And, of course, there are potential health concerns to take into account. However, those who occasionally smoke it simply to unwind, the way I might drink a glass of wine with dinner, or for simple enjoyment are not, in my opinion, doing anything to jeopardize their ability to live mindfully.
So what is the gist of these arguments? They highlight the fact that drawing moral lines in the sand is tricky and often ill-advised. Yes, some things are clearly wrong (like mistreating animals – and eating factory farmed meat supports that unethical practice). I am certainly not one to argue that all morals are relative. But when it comes to the more banal, everyday decisions we make in life, many of our behaviors are morally neutral. Where exactly do we draw the line between those behaviors that are clearly wrong and those that are morally neutral? That’s another blog entirely – one I hope to write in the near future. But suffice it to say, it is important to keep in mind that, in the case of many day-to-day behaviors, it is how we engage in them and the motivations behind them that determine whether our decisions are ethical and whether they support a mindful lifestyle.