Veganism and spirituality – they go hand in hand – is all about the process of becoming aware

Photo credits: Daphne Ponsteen

I believe that every single human being is a very pure, honest, good person. However, culture, society, religion, friends and other external factors influence people so much that they shape their own religion or else identify strongly with their religion, which sometimes makes them look like jerks to others. But deep down I believe that if you break down the systems and really help them understand why their identifications are the way they are, they end up realising that there are a lot of things that everybody agrees upon.

Early on in my life, I never listened to anyone; I only listened to myself. And this often created a lot of friction. I got bullied in school – like real bullying: people waiting for me after school to beat me up. But it never got me down because I knew who I was. I didn’t know who I was going to be but I knew that I was doing what I wanted to do and I always focused on what I wanted and I never adjusted to peer pressure. So I was just doing my own thing, doing what I loved. I started with football, because everybody in my school was doing football, but I quickly realised there are so many other things and I tried out every single sport that we had available, from skateboarding to horse-riding to hockey to whatever. Eventually I fell in love with extreme sports, and I became a professional kite-surfer when I was 17. When I was 18, I got a sponsor called Go Fast. The guy who recruited me, a friend of the owner, he was a bit dorky. And I was on top of my game. I was one of the best in the Netherlands, only 17, 18 years old so a little bit arrogant. So at that time, I was quite judgemental, because in my bubble people looked up to me, so it’s easy to feel like a star. So I thought, who is this weird guy? Then I got to know him, and it turned out he was an F16 pilot, the leader of the army of F16 pilots even. So he took me there, and this for me went so strongly against my belief, because to me he seemed dorky, weird, because he didn’t fit in the idea I had in my mind of what was cool, but then it turned out he was supercool! He had this huge authority within his organisation, we were walking through the hallway and people were greeting him…So for me this was a moment to think: Wow, Randy, you’re so judgemental. So when I realised that I slowly started to become more and more observant of my own thoughts and feelings, and realised that whatever you believe is not necessarily what really is. And this process if of course still going on today, comparing what truly is with what I’m believing and seeing.

So, I think that was the biggest turning point, and the second biggest thing is me going vegan. At that moment, I understood that we all live in bubbles, in systems we believe in and on that basis, we judge and view the world. But I always thought I was a good person, that I did the best I could. I tried to not hurt anyone and I loved animals. I saw the beauty of the world and I loved it. But, then I discovered veganism and I was in shock at what an impact eating meat has on the environment. A pig is smarter than a dog. They are each individual beings with their own soul and identity. Yet we treat dogs one way, and pigs another way. We say to the Chinese that they are cruel because they kill and eat dog, but we do the same with pigs.  We have biases based on what we believe and feel comfortable with, and everything outside of that we judge harshly. Yet we are not consistent ourselves. We say we love animals but how can you love something if you kill it when you don’t have to. Because that’s the main thing, health. For me, eating meat is what I’m used to, and in order to be healthy, especially as an athlete, you had to consume these products. But the more I started to look into the health excuse that I had, the more I realised that it was an excuse, and based on all the scientific studies that are available now, I realised we don’t actually need it. That, and the fact that it is so bad for the environment, and that my own ethics, the way I perceived myself to be was inconsistent with what I was actually doing, this sparked a whole new awareness inside of me that was like, holy shit, and then I was like, okay, what am I gonna do about it? And how can I use the skills I have to contribute to this problem in a way that would both benefit me and create a life-style that I could sustain, and at the same time do something to create awareness? I strongly believed that how I was living was the right way to be, but totally missed on another perspective. That was April 2016.

Another big thing that happened in my life was discovering Sadhguru, a mystic from India, through Youtube. Within a week I bought two of his books, the next week I went to a four-day program and intensive training. Sadhguru taught me that spirituality has nothing to do with religion, because religion is all based on systems that you have to live by. Whereas spirituality is getting to know your own spirit, which is your life energy. So, when you identify with too many things, it means you set boundaries to the things that you actually have and can do, and your beliefs will impact how you perceive the reality. I think Sadhguru is all about losing these boundaries, the identifications that you have. So the whole spiritual process is becoming aware of your identifications, and either losing these identifications or living them consciously rather than compulsively.

I strongly identify as a vegan. My company is called the Vegan Entrepreneur.  That is partially because I want to attract the people who identify with veganism, but also because I strongly identify with the morals and principles of veganism: don’t do harm if it’s not necessary. Don’t discriminate between people, but also don’t discriminate between species. Because every life wants to live. The moment we become the judge of who gets to live and who gets to die….if it’s for survival, it’s necessary, but if it’s not about survival but purely about personal taste and pleasure, then it’s a selfish thing to do. If you are aware of all this and still choose to make this decision, fine. But most people aren’t aware of the whole process and the consequences when they buy a steak in the supermarket. They don’t realise that eating a hamburger requires as much water as three months showering. There are countries where they can’t even shower because they don’t have water. So, the way we treat our resources on the planet, as a collective…we are with 7 billions people, soon to be 10 billion, so we have to change the way we live and make truly educated decisions. That takes effort, time and energy, and that’s really hard for people because they are so distracted. They rather look on Facebook at what other people did that working on themselves. For me, veganism and spirituality, they go hand in hand I think, is all about the process of becoming aware.

I face challenges every day. Change is the most difficult thing possible. To change your lifestyle to become that person you want to be is very hard. Take quitting smoking. When you no longer have that relaxing moment smoking your cigarette, it feels like you lose something. And you get cranky and think you’re never gonna try to quit again because it doesn’t make you a nice human being. But to me, that’s the ego trying to find excuses to justify things. And because you live in such a disconnect between what you want to do and what you’re actually doing, you feel very frustrated and stressed, and this leads to more smoking…But the truth is, every time you try to quit smoking, you’re gonna fail. It’s just a matter of do you try to continue. Are you going to replace your old habits with something new? Your ego will try to push you back to the habits you are familiar with, so you have to replace it with things that bring even more joy. Every day I try to change my habits to become that person I envision to become, and every day I am making mistakes and failing, every day I’m screwing up, but what I try to teach people is, don’t look only at that day that you failed, but look at your monthly goals, your yearly goals. If you try to go vegan in a day, suddenly all the habits that you had, the way you do your groceries, the way you hang out with people, the way you socialise, everything changes. The way you lived in this society and the systems you had created for yourself to live joyfully, are suddenly challenged. So to move through that process of change takes failure. And the only way to make it sustainable is to accept this, learn, and continue to try your best. In other words, I fail every day.

I understand everybody makes assumptions, only the people who are truly enlightened don’t. So you have to understand that everybody else is judging you no matter what. And judging doesn’t have to be bad. They judge you on the basis of what they have experienced in the past, and that knowledge they project on others. This is just how most people work. They are so easily manipulated, by the news for example. On the news, all you see is shit, all you see is fear. Because that sells. Because we are hardwired to want to learn more about the girl that got murdered and cut up in pieces. But this other girl who did a workshop and educated 20 children about being a more fun person in life, she won’t hit the news. So all the news is filtered through what’s wrong in society. So we walk through the world seeing a Muslim and thinking ‘oh that’s a terrorist’. But do you know how many Muslims there are in the world? Compared to how many Muslims are terrorists? That’s nothing. There’s not even 1% of Muslims who are terrorists, yet every Muslim we see we suddenly associate with terrorism because the media told us to do so. Becoming aware of that is very liberating.

I find myself making judgements all the time, but I quickly observe myself making these judgements and then I’m like, ‘you don’t know anything’. I discovered this when I was single for the first time after a nine-year relationship, and I’m the kind of guy who thinks, “I never had this dating period so now I want to learn how to be very good at this”. So I bought some books and courses…you can learn everything! Reading about it, and then trying it. So I started studying, and this guy told me once, if you go to a girl, and you ask this girl out for a drink, and she says no, most people are devastated. And out of fear of that “no” they won’t do it. But maybe this girl was a lesbian. Maybe she has a boyfriend. Maybe her dad just died, and she’s not in the mood to date. There are so many things happening in this other person’s life you have no clue about, that for you to make a judgement as to why she said no is just stupid. We all do it all the time. We take everything really personally but we don’t understand the context, we don’t know the story of the other person. If we would only become more empathetic and learn to view things from the other person’s perspective, we would understand that it could be because of us, but it could also be because of many other things. So I don’t care what other people think about me. Unless they have spent a lot of time with me, and not while on their phone, really being with me, exchanging ideas, learning about my past, my ideas of the future, what I’m working on right now, only then is their judgement something relevant to take into consideration. So I try – and I fail every day – not to make judgements of other people.

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