Today instead of sharing a travel experience with you, I have decided to share something that has been on my mind for quite a while now.
Fortunately or unfortunately I have liked a few pages concerning animal welfare on Facebook which led to the flood of welfare issue videos on my timeline. I am going to be honest, most of the times I just scroll over them as fast as I can because it makes me sad to see how other beings are treated by humans. I think this is where my road to take altruism seriously and trying to maintain a more conscious lifestyle started. I started to feel a pressuring pain on my chest. Something is wrong. We are slowly killing this beautiful planet, and we start with the weakest. We put dolphins into tiny tanks where they go crazy and hurt each other, I also read about a mother who was captured with her calf and she decided to drown her own baby rather than to let her live a miserable life in a tank just for our entertainment. Nutella was so yummy until (like basically almost every processed food) I got to know that deforestation takes place to produce the key ingredient: palm oil. They are destroying the natural habitat of wonderful creatures like the Orangutan, who are either killed or starve to death. Cheap clothes are made by children who either saw or pick the cotton, both of these are things we could never imagine asking our own children to do in a million years. How many people are in your town struggling to survive, or homeless. In many cases, these people were just very unfortunate and something happened that broke their lives into a million pieces and now they live in shame. The shame of being poor. The shame of having nothing.
The realization, the ugly truth behind the scenes of my own comfortable life made me anxious.
All of these thoughts stormed my mind and I felt awful. It felt exactly like when you eat something that makes your stomach turn then nausea follows. It is impossible to digest it. My first reaction to this feeling was to convince myself that these things don’t exist in my world. Around me, everything is perfectly fine. I tried to calm myself down by telling myself how I had my fair share of being good to this world. We adopted a senior dog with my partner and we take very good care of him. We try to use as less plastic bags as possible. We don’t eat much meat at all, sometimes we even get to collect our trash separately, etc. It worked. I felt that everything was fine. I went on with my life, I successfully chased the black clouds of these thoughts away.
I am sorry if this part will feel a little bit out of context, but I promise that later on, you will understand why it is so relevant.
My strategy was working out for me, I felt very good about myself and the life I was leading, except for one little thing. I had pelvic pain for the past two years. Sometimes it was mild and sometimes it was strong and devastating. I got my blood tested and went to several different doctors to figure out what this could be, but everyone said that I was fine and they couldn’t find anything wrong. I told myself maybe this is just neurological. Maybe stress, but deep down inside I knew that something wasn’t a 100 percent. I tried to ignore this too, especially after being told that there is nothing that physically causes my pain. After two years of this living hell of pain and not knowing what causes it, I decided to give it one more chance. I searched for a doctor whose specialty was ‘hard and desperate cases’, like me. He did a few tests and by the end, it figures that there was a cause for my pain. A very real one. I was so scared and yet relieved after the diagnose (turns out that all of my several issues were caused by a severe food allergy). Now I know what has to be done for me to be healthy again which is an enormous amount of comfort. The experience of living with so much physical pain changed the way I was seeing life, or rather what I find really important in life.
My condition and pain made me come to some realizations. One of these was that health is the biggest gift we can have in life. We are responsible for ourselves, our well-being. We have to take care of our bodies and pamper it with healthy food and sports of any kind. We are capable of healing ourselves, but to be able to do that, we have to pay an enormous amount of attention to our minds and bodies and soul.
The other realization was that besides being responsible for our own bodies, we are also responsible for our surrounding. The quality of the time that we spend on this planet is defined by the life we live and how we treat ourselves and everything else around us. We have to be aware of what is going on also outside of our bubbles, so when the opportunity comes, we can make a choice. These choices define us as human beings. We better make the good ones.
Somehow my unidentified pain not only limited my body but somehow it paralyzed some parts of my mind too. After I got to know that my physical issues will be solved, I felt like I woke up from a deep, ignorant sleep and I wanted to do something. One day after work I walked into my wardrobe. I wanted space and fewer things around me. There were clothes in huge bags, unused. In the first place I tried to sell some of them in several Facebook groups for a very cheap price, thinking, I might as well get some of the money back that I spent on these possessions, most, I have never used. I have to be frank here, selling your stuff on the internet is so time-consuming that I decided it is just not worth it for me. It was a real pain in the *ss. I also knew that I didn’t want to just throw these things away, which left me with one option: Giving it away for free, to someone who needs it and would be happy to have it. I joined another group on Facebook where I could just put up the things I wanted to give away and wait for people to respond. It was amazing and also sad at the same time, how quickly all of my stuff found new owners.
This kind of helping made me feel good. I could make people so happy with things that I didn’t need or use. Basic things. It was so little effort and such a huge gain. I was addicted right away. I started to sign online petitions and made some small donations to foundations, helping with causes that are important to me. Doing good is very addictive as well. I couldn’t stop. I found myself buying things at the store that I knew I didn’t need but was sure that would make someone happy. On New Year’s Eve, before celebrating with my best friend we went to a family to drop off gifts for kids, whose mother couldn’t afford to buy them presents for Christmas. All of the people I helped texted me on the very last day of the year thanking me again and wishing me good health, wealth and all the best for the upcoming year. These words of caring and kindness made me feel better. It felt like it was contributing to my healing process.
Moving and then going home for a week.
In the beginning of January, we moved for 6 months to the Netherlands. I knew that for one week in February we would go back for a week for my birthday. Before going home, I wrote to all of my friends that this year I don’t want gifts from anyone, but in case they have something that they would like to give away, I would appreciate it, because then I could give it to people in need. It was very touching how my colleagues and friends contributed to this with so many useful and nice things. With their help, a lot of families got help. I was happy, this was the best birthday so far that I ever had.
The benefits of altruism.
Not only doing something good can make us feel awesome and connected, it turns out it also can make us live longer! I came upon an article that brings scientific facts to the table by stating that doing good deeds can improve our health. Altruism reduces stress. When we are under stress, our bodies release a hormone called cortisol wich causes heavy breathing and makes our heart rates increase. When we are in stress, ‘we are preparing our bodies to fight’. If we are in this state for a long period it can have very harmful effects on our cardiovascular and our immune system is affected by it. This can lead to abnormal cellular changes wich can also result in premature aging and then lead to an early death. Helping ourselves to reduce our own stress is essential for a long and happy life, yet I don’t think that this aspect of altruism is emphasized enough. If you are also caught up in a very busy life and tight schedule just keep in mind that doing something good will make you happy and healthy! Give yoursef the time and chance to find something that suits you the best.
See the article that was a base to this paragraph here.
What can you do?
I read a book back in University years ago. Elliot Aronson: The social animal. There was an example in it that I think I will never forget. Someone was attacked on the streets and people have seen it from the windows of the surrounding buildings, but nobody called the police thinking that someone must have already done it. It is important to know that even though one person might not be able to bring a change, we are not one person, but a huge mass of individuals and our choices and acts do have an effect.
First of all, we have to understand that not all of us was born to work for welfare and environmental protection organizations and this is perfectly ok. However, these people are needed because they are the ones who are fighting every day to make this world a better place. They are the ones on the stage but they need your help and support. Find an organization or foundation or group that deals with issues that concern you the most and donate money or join their activist groups.
Besides aiding a foundation of your choice, small everyday day choices can also have an effect. Try to avoid buying cheap clothes, processed food, fur, plastic bags with every shopping. Try to buy local and organic food (it not only is better for the environment but also better for your health! Food that was treated with chemicals, antibiotics, and hormones may result in health problems.), if you want to adopt a new pet go to shelters, help someone you know is having a hard time, bring toys to an orphanage, give food or money to the homeless, plant a tree, sign petitions online, etc.
Just try to find what can be done within your boundaries and when you will have the chance you can try to push it forward. We also have to respect our own pace and know that we cannot change our lives from one day to the other and that is perfectly fine. To know the direction and the goal and taking small steps each time we can afford to is enough. All we have to do is just be in it. Live in this world and be aware of it. Love it and take care of it.
See the blog that inspired this paragraph here.
My conclusion is that we have power over our lives and if we choose to take the responsibility then we can make great changes. Maybe I am naive, but if I didn’t think this way I would feel that my life is purposeless. This gives me strength. I am taking baby steps. Right now within the boundaries that I have, I am trying to do the best I can for the things that I genuinely believe in. I don’t want to tell anyone what to do or how they should live their lives. I just want to let people know who are struggling the same way I was, that there are so many things one can do.