I admit it: I did not initially approach writing this in the most mindful way
because I was having a hard time finding the time to read the book.
I tried to squeeze it in between other projects. Didn’t work.
I aimed to do it on the weekend. I resented it.
I attempted to shame myself into
powering through. Did not reap great results.
I was short-tempered with my loved ones. See above.
Finally, one night I read one page. Then another and another and another until
it was something I wanted to ditch my other work to do. Even as someone who
already tries to practice mindfulness, I had put off reading the book because I
was too slammed with busyness and life to really immerse myself in it. (Part of
why I am so busy is the story I tell myself that I am only worthwhile if I am slammed
with projects but that’s a story for another day.) This busyness and avoidance
was causing anxiety, guilt, resentment and on and on until I finally cracked
open The Mindful Vegan: A
30-Day Plan for Finding Health, Balance, Peace, and Happiness by Lani Muelrath and realized that it
was precisely because of that feverish, unsustainable pace and mentality I keep
up that I needed to read this book. And it’s been very rewarding to do so.
Mindfulness is such a buzzword these days. Why? I think that as the world feels
more chaotic and people understand more the importance of self-care in big
picture of building a better world, it’s becoming more of a priority.
Interestingly, I have heard some people voice displeasure with the term
“mindfulness” because isn’t part of the problem that our minds are already
full-to-bursting with thoughts and endless reams of information? Professor
and Daring Greatly author Brené Brown
suggests we use the term “courageous presence” instead. Regardless of what term
you use, every day the benefits of mindfulness are becoming more evident and
one of the primary vehicles to cultivating it, meditation, helps us to become
less reactive to our thoughts and more tuned in to how we can shift to and nurture a more balanced,
positive and supportive state of mind.
This is where The Mindful Vegan comes
in. With a 30-day plan to take you through the often challenging early stages
of creating a meditation practice – along with free guided
meditations for each corresponding daily chapter – you can be on your way from
not being able to sit in meditation for a minute to a full 30-minute sitting
practice (and more if you desire). By providing the essential building blocks to meditation
and growing on that minute-by-minute with each subsequent chapter and
meditation sitting, Lani Muelrath sets her readers up for success. It is
particularly written for both vegans and those trying to transition, making an
excellent case for how veganism aligns with a mindfulness practice, and why
vegans might benefit from living in the world with more mindfulness as well. As
someone who was among the many that at one time thought they couldn’t meditate
to being someone who now meditates daily, I think of the practice like a shower
for my brain, or maybe windshield wipers that help to clear off my murky glass.
I had many trials and errors on my way to building a consistent practice,
though, sometimes giving up for years at a time. I wish I had this book – written
with wisdom, compassion, understanding and lucid, helpful guidance – during
many of my previous attempts. Her steps and guidance really create an excellent foundation for meditation, something that can feel so elusive and out-of-grasp, and mindful living.
As a longtime educator, public speaker and vegan living enthusiast, Lani brings
her extensive experience with a mindfulness meditation practice and
considerable strengths as a communicator to her latest book. It is written with
grace, confidence, patience, passion and humility, keeping readers engaged and rewarded
throughout. I cannot recommend this book enough. (In fact, I am honored to have
contributed a small section to the book.) Having met the author in person, and
being impressed by her positive, friendly and open attitude and warmth, I can
say that if a mindfulness practice can help us all bring a higher level of
peace and consciousness to our lives, the whole world would benefit.
1. What do you mean when you say
My working definition? It’s a good place to start as it
clarifies the foundation for conversation:
Mindfulness is a specific form of mental training, and a particular kind of
awareness you bring to your daily activities. Together, these lead to
reductions in reactivity and the cultivation of positive brain states.
To elaborate on “reductions in reactivity” – how much of our
day is filled with reacting out of habit to someone, something, some situation
– in a way that multiplies misery? This is precisely what mindfulness practices
help to alleviate.
And as for positive brain states – our mental habit of
wandering mind, ruminating over the past or chewing excessively on future “what
ifs” literally move us into a part of
the brain where also reside sadness, depression, cravings - even addiction. By
cultivating mindfulness – the ability to be more present in this moment, and
actually doing what we’re doing while we’re doing it – unobscure our endogenous
happiness, peace of mind, equanimity, and compassion. They are all there –
we’ve just heaped busy lives and busy minds on top of them!
I teach mindfulness in The Mindful Vegan via two pathways: formal
practice (specific form of mental training) and awareness you bring to the rest
of our day outside of formal practice, called informal practice, or active, mindful living.
2. Do vegans necessarily automatically practice
Um, no. Our automaticity with habits of thinking, reacting,
behaving, are cultivated by years of lack of any kind of training at getting
some degree of master over our habits of thinking. This plagues us just as it
does everyone else.
Vegans do possess a consciousness about living that is
certainly more mindful of the horrors of animal agriculture and awareness of
human entitlement around animals. Vegans are more mindful of the millions of
ways this shows up in how humans treat animals as objects for one use or
another. This is one aspect of mindful living.
3. Do omnivores necessarily not practice mindful living?
For years, I have seen and read – you may have seen them too
- books about mindful eating and mindful living. Not a one of them – that I
could find, anyway –addressed mindfulness from the perspective about what or
who is on our plate, or how it or they got there, or the collateral damage it
causes to our health, the planet, and the other sentient beings with whom we
share her. This is one of the reasons I wanted to write The Mindful Vegan. Mindful eating does not mean chewing each bite
of cowburger 32 times while eating off of nice dinnerware and listening to
classical music. More important is the mindfulness surrounding the contents of
You included the broader ‘living’, though, and not just
eating. The same thought reaches into every other aspect of our daily lives –
mindfulness of what we wear, the products and services we buy. It can be an
endless investigation so we do the best we can, keeping in mind that the main
thrust of veganism is causing the least harm possible. It is so easy to do this
in so many venues, especially with what we eat. We more often than not have a
4. How does mindfulness extend beyond the table for vegans? For example, how
can we practice the habits of mindfulness coexisting in the world as vegans?
What occasions might arise that call for it? It seems to me that we could be
better communicators of the vegan message if we’re less reactive and more
This realm of mindfulness potential for vegans is huge. And
this is where we can also refer back to the definition of mindfulness and
reactivity from the first question.
Those of us who have been aspiring to be conscious eaters as
vegans for any length of time know the stress and anxiety surrounding the
reality of the food culture - right down to being the only vegan at the table.
We can – and often do – anticipate the redundant questions, the resistance,
even hostility from those who don’t - or don’t wish to - examine other
factors of what they eat other than taste. Perhaps they are even concerned with
health, yet without taking into the bigger picture of health, which reaches to
that of our environment, and how our health is affected by the dissonance of
saying we love animals while eating them. This is where the resistance comes
from, not from anything, necessarily, that we may say. Even quietly enjoying
our plant-sourced meal, who of us has not felt a degree of tension in the air?
First, it is important to understand where this tension may
be coming from. That alone, however, is usually not enough to allow us to
navigate these situations and conversations with equanimity, let alone skill.
With mindfulness practice, as I teach in The Mindful Vegan, you learn how to get
some degree of mastery over your habits of thinking which includes anxiety and
automated reactivity in these situations. You learn not to suppress or ignore
these emotions, or tell yourself you shouldn’t feel them, or try to
intellectualize your way out of them, but to navigate them in a new way so that
you can actually be more present with others in a fashion that builds harmony
and compassion, rather than exaggerating a polarized position.
This makes us more effective as advocates or activists. Being wrapped up in reactivity and anger - even
rehearsing clever comebacks that are designed to blame and shame – pull us out
of actually being present with others, ourselves, and life in each situation as
it arises. As you become more able to tap into your natural equanimity and
kindness, these become the more prevalent experience in these conversations and
In my experience, the way we can be most effective at
bringing others to vegan living is to embody, the best we can, those qualities
that we champion: kindness, compassion,
non-harming, acknowledgement... Have you ever made a change, as an
adult, that has been foisted upon you through blame and shame? Probably not.
When we bring to the surface our innate happiness and ease, which allows us to
live as happier, healthier, resilient, thriving humans, we are more likely to
draw others to the joy of the vegan experience.
This is not to be confused with passivity. Inner
connectivity, ease, and consistency strengthen our ability to make a difference
in the movement in different ways depending on our personalities and strengths.
The practice of Vipassana meditation, which I teach in The Mindful Vegan, grows your ability to observe yourself so that
you can connect with your feelings and emotions, and respond with more skill. This
awareness joined with the space around all of it that you create with
mindfulness practices makes it increasingly possible to overcome your own fear
and anger to respond with firm, non-hateful or belligerent, honest
straightforward forceful speech. It is known as rightful speech. Not every
time, but increasingly as you become more practiced in the basic practices of
mindfulness training and bringing it to active living in the world. This is
very important for the movement.
A good example of right speech is vegan activist James Aspey. James has
the uncanny ability – most of the time – in conversations with non-vegans, to
be direct without being belligerently confrontational. You can tell while
watching these conversations, many of which are on his YouTube channel,
that he is listening to the other person, being completely present with them,
and connecting with them as a human being. He is clear with his own opinion,
without being caught in reactivity or a pre-set story. This is what impresses
us so much about watching these interactions. And I am certain that, along with
some natural talent for communication, it is because James practices meditation
– the same school of practice as I do and as I teach in The Mindful Vegan. It
is one important reason that he was so enthusiastic about endorsing my book and
providing a cover quote.
“Mindfulness is probably the most important practice we can
ever undertake. The more we are able to be mindful, or present, the more we
are able to feel authentically connected with ourselves and ‘others.’ The
ability to be present is at the heart of all healthy relationships: with other
humans, with nonhuman beings, with the planet, and with ourselves. When we are
present, we relate to all aspects of our lives—including our eating habits—with
greater awareness, compassion, and health.”
5. What are your first signs – physical or mental – that you are not being
Increased reactivity, excessive rumination, uncontrollable
wandering mind – where you can’t stop running in unproductive thinking
loops. Automaticity – acting, speaking,
and being hijacked by your thoughts on autopilot. This can show up as mindless
snacking, cravings, compulsive behavior of any kind, surprising outbursts of
anger, heightened stress,
escaping through one obsession or another. These are all signs of being pulled
out of a mindful presence.
Unchecked automaticity, reactivity, and excessive rumination
hooks neural activity associated with negative brain states – cravings,
sadness, depression, obsession, even cravings and addictions. Being mindfully
present brings brain activity directly out of these states. It’s like turning
on and off a switch, or changing tracks in the train station. Bringing yourself
back to the present actually moves brain activity into another center of the
brain where reside happiness, joy, compassion, and equanimity.
6. It seems to me like I hear so many
people say that they “can’t meditate” like there is something uniquely wrong
with them when, in fact, it is just so much about how our frenetic brains are
wired that it feels alien at first and people give up. What do you say to
someone who thinks she “can’t meditate”?
This is a universal experience. We sit down to fill just two
or three minutes with being present with the breath coming in and out of the
body, and our minds become instantly rambunctious – like the windup monkey toy
with the clapping symbols in his hands. In truth, that’s what our minds are
always doing – we just don’t notice it. We are usually just listening to the
mind’s every story and
following its every whim, as if we had no choice in the matter. And actually,
unless we undergo some kind of training for the mind – which most of us never
got in school or otherwise – we don’t. We don’t even know that there might be
the possibility of a choice.
It is very helpful to hear that meditation practice is not
about trying to stop thoughts or to not think during meditation practice. Thinking
is what the mind does. What we are doing with mindfulness practice is discovering
that we don’t have to believe everything we think, or go with every story the
mind conjures up. Viktor Frankl said “Between stimulus and response there is a
space. In that space is the power to
choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom”.
Mindfulness practices are about expanding that space, so we can grow our
ability to choose and live more skillfully, rather than out of reactivity. With mindfulness training, you do
little things with your mind that make big changes in your brain and experience
7. Does meditation get easier over time? Conversely, do you still have days
that are challenging for you with your meditation practice?
Yes, and yes. Easier
is probably not the best word. But as you develop the ability, through simple
mental training, to not let yourself
be hijacked by every thought, and to bring yourself back to the present –
whether in formal practice or living with all the ups and downs of life –it
becomes a skill you are better at, just like any skill you might practice. Sometimes
my sitting practice is spacious, still, transcendent, the mind seems to settle
a little more, or I am better at not engaging it its constant chatter, and the
experience is very pleasant. Other times I can be off and wandering in thought
for five minutes before I realize it and must once again bring myself back to
The important thing, I remind myself, is that it is the
practice of bringing the attention back to anchor point from its habit of
wandering that is key. Having a quiet mind, no thoughts occurring,
being perfectly happy every minute to sit still – these are going to come and
go, just like everything else. The point is to learn to hold steady and
navigate these ups and downs – a skill directly applicable to the next meal,
the next challenging encounter – the next life experience.
8. How does mindfulness benefit someone
who wants to transition to veganism easier?
Through mindfulness practices you become more acquainted
with yourself in ways that may have previously been unimagined. You become more
acutely aware of inconsistencies in your life, dissonance between what you
value and what your actions may demonstrate.
You become more attuned to the impact of your choices - and that
includes what you eat. I have a direct personal experience of this that I wrote
about in The Mindful Vegan. It was my mindfulness practice
that eventually pushed me to get dairy products off my plate, the last holdout
from my previous vegetarian diet. I became increasingly uncomfortable with
something as simple as driving on roads that passed through fields of cows,
knowing I was contributing to their miserable fate. Mindfulness practices
sharpen your interoception, or perception of how things feel in your body –
with everything from emotions to hunger and fullness. Increasingly I became
aware of the feeling of dissonance in my body when the cows in my presence
brought up the inner conflict. Even though I had increasing cognitive knowledge
about the problems with dairy, the actual feeling of that inner dissonance is what
inspired the tipping point. Eating in closer alignment with your ethics and natural compassion brings a
profound sense of well-being. This
is the joy of being vegan, which so many of us wish to convey to others.
9. Why do you think that so few people in
the personal growth world adopt a vegan lifestyle?
Food is one of the strongest foundations and connections of
our experience – with family, and culturally and socially. For eons we’ve
gathered around the fire to enjoy familiar foods, nourish ourselves and each
other. Giving and receiving food are two of the kindest and most pleasurable
acts we can engage in. When we make a noticeable shift in that tradition by
changing what we eat and questioning what has always been on the table because
we have seen the circumstances behind it, it brings up all the issues of
breaking with the familial and societal status quo. This may then become
relationship challenging territory into which people interested in personal
growth may not want to venture.
There’s also something known as the Meat Paradox – central
to the studies on Day 19 of The Mindful
Vegan. The Meat Paradox, briefly, is when people awakened to the
contradiction of eating animals while loving them actually become more militant
in opposition to giving up animal products. It causes the discomfort of
conflict within them. We, as vegans, uncover this discomfort, even if we
haven’t said or done anything to directly cause opposition. We become the
messenger they want to shoot. Understanding this, as ironic as it may be, is
very helpful in developing compassion for and being present in these circumstances.
10. I think it’s amazing that as part of
the book, readers get access to your 30-days of guided meditations. It’s such a
value added. What do you think makes your program different?
Thank you! I tried to think of as many ways as I could to
encourage people to try these tools out for themselves. Setting it up as a 30-day
plan is one of those ways – instead of having a book with some great ideas that
you could get to later, I wanted to make the practice easily accessible, with full
instruction, from Day One. The audios I made as companion - now downloadable
immediately on my website (the instructions for how to navigate to them are in The Mindful Vegan in Resources) is
another. And I wanted to make them free, to make it even easier. I have partnered with Insight Timer App (to bring several tracks
to the public at large, so people could try them and also so that people could
find out that there is a project available that brings these two together –
mindfulness and veganism – via The Mindful Vegan. Though
she is a book, I actually see this as a project. I have been teaching and
leading group meditations all over the place at no charge, to further the reach
of this valuable message. My intention is to bring more ease of living and
restore the pure joy of eating, and to assist and support the challenges of
being vegan in an omnivorous world, so that we can be better advocates for
change and more effective at touching the world. This starts with an inner
connection and also reaches into the deep need to address compassion fatigue. I
am deeply honored that Dr. Melanie Joy refers to The Mindful Vegan in her new book about living vegan, Beyond
Beliefs, and that she recommends The
Mindful Vegan in her Center for Effective Vegan Advocacy trainings. This is a long answer to your question, yet
together they all underscore the uniqueness of this book.
These qualities, along with the fact that this guide is
written by a teacher – I have taught for over four decades at both the college
and middle school level – which means I am practiced in figuring out how to
take what might be a complex challenge and break it down into step-by-step
doable bits. In this way, skills
build one upon another. This is in contrast to meditation guides that present a
random set of techniques, all of which may be excellent, but I have found can
leave you a bit lost as you try to figure out how to best proceed. I’m
also an academic, which means I value the science behind what I teach and
practice, and The Mindful Vegan is
packed with references to the research on the benefits of mindfulness training,
of which there are now thousands of research studies. These practices have been shown to have
positive benefit on everything from stress and anxiety management to smoking cessation
to binge eating – and it’s all there in the book.
Thank you, Lani! I am so grateful for