Each year, I find adjusting to Daylight Saving’s Time comes with a bout of resistance. The spring and summer are active seasons—outdoor seasons—with nature’s backdrop of extra light and warmth present to encourage new growth and activity. Suddenly, the days get shorter, the light wanes, and for those of us in Northern California, well, it can feel like we’ve entered the Arctic. Though it may require some adjustment, there is no better time of year to heed nature’s cues to slow down and turn our gaze within in order to take stock of these past months—or years—and enter a period of deep contemplation.
It was during one such an annual contemplation time three years ago that I read “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo. In it, Kondo has you gather and touch every item you own, answering the question: “Does this spark joy?” If yes, it stays, if no, out the door it goes. I had read legions of other books about decluttering, but this one came along at the very time I was contemplating the ethics of my fashion choices.
I had been following a vegan diet for several years, and was becoming increasingly hyper-aware that each and every time I zipped up my fabulous John Fluevog oxblood superhero knee-high motorcycle boots, I was zipping up the hide of a once-living, innocent, sentient being. As an animal rights’ advocate, I felt like a hypocrite and fraud, and that daily zipping flash of animal torture that would come to mind certainly didn’t spark joy. For two years prior, I had adopted the rule “No leather above the knee”—so no leather belts or purses—which somehow excused my wearing leather shoes and made me a good person. After all, I had a justifiable reason for it: I couldn’t find good vegan shoes!
If you’ve been on the vegan path, you’ll understand what I mean. Shoe options have been extremely limited, and vegans were forced to: 1) look like they just crawled out of a cave in the mountains of New Mexico, 2) be completely and utterly uncomfortable—tortured, even, or 3) throw money at a company manufacturing questionable materials with child labor. So the argument for wearing an animal’s hide actually did make some sense at the time. But when I decided to follow Kondo’s life-changing magical guidance and toss anything that didn’t bring joy—and if I truly believed that animal exploitation and suffering was wrong at my core—I knew I would have to buck up and empty my closet of leather goods once and for all. In one courageous moment and a few generous armfuls later, I gave one last embrace to the remaining leather in my life. This left me with only a handful of shoes: my two pairs of vegan Birkenstock Gizahs, vegan Doc Martens reserved for cleaning barns at Farm Sanctuary or Animal Place, a pair of flip-flops, and two pairs of running shoes. This was so liberating, and I knew I would feel good about filling my closet with conscious choices from that point on. And that’s exactly where this decision has brought me: fewer, higher quality shoes by companies who are friendly to humans, animals, and the environment. (** Shout out to the crew at Nicora: THANK YOU—your beautiful, handmade shoes have changed my life! **)
As a long-time student of yoga and Ayurveda, this period of inward-turning is the best education I’ve received. It’s easy to look to the world—even well-meaning teachers—to tell us what is best for our lives. But inner teachings… they are true and the effects lasting. From exploring our own inner landscape, and seeing if our outsides truly reflect what’s on the inside, we come to know our personal inner blueprint. That is, what values we hold, which are non-negotiable, and what changes we need to make in order to bring it all into alignment. This is key: actively making choices to bring our daily life, relationships, and surroundings into deep and intimate alignment with who we really are. And this takes time. It takes as long as it takes.
I’ve shared just one example of how a period of contemplation led me to examine my values more closely, and it was indeed life changing (and by no means am I saying that everyone’s vegan journey will look like mine—that closet sweep was extreme). Becoming aware, then choosing to make changes that feel good all the way down into the core of my being, has provided me with confidence and a knowing that I really do create my reality. I’m confident I can continue to grow and make changes, and, yes, by sometimes doing the seemingly impossible—such as tossing out all of my beloved shoes.
I can feel the tug of nature even now, as she sips the daylight from the days and makes cozying up at home with a hot cup of tea much more desirable than running around town. I’m eager to see what new insights come as this year winds to a close, and I turn to the New Year with greater understanding and enthusiasm.
Perhaps this is a good time for you to take advantage of this slower season, to flow with nature and let her darkness escort you into your own inner realms in order to discover more about yourself. There are no wrong answers, and the only one who can take you there is… you. True yoga happens everywhere you are. How you act and react in one moment is reflective of how you are in every moment. It’s also a clue as to what you value and if you’re living in accordance with those values. So it’s good to pay attention.
Rilke says that we should live in the questions, instead of being in a rush to find answers. I agree that this is a wonderful way to dig into the juicy part of this being human. I’ll leave you with some questions that might help spark your own seasonal contemplation:
Do your choices reflect your values? Do your outsides and actions reflect your insides?
Can you identify your #1 non-negotiable value? If so, what action steps can you take now in order to become more in alignment with that value?
Is your philosophy consistent? Are you aware if it isn’t? Using my example, if you are vegan, and tend to judge others for eating meat, are you truly in a position to do so? Are your actions 100% in alignment with your values?
Are you willing to take an honest look at your life and then take some action to bring about change?
How well do you practice the yogic principle of ahimsa, or “non-harm”? Are you kind and compassionate with others, and especially with yourself?
Jen Sterling is an attorney and personal trainer in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she has also taught yoga and practiced Ayurveda. She recently earned her pro card as a natural vegan figure competitor with the World Natural Bodybuilding Federation and is an avid promoter of a fit and plant-based lifestyle (which includes Nicora shoes, of course!). Nothing makes her happier than watching others thrive once they switch to plant-based living. Jen supports numerous animal welfare causes, and is particularly passionate about ending factory farming.