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VCG; The Podcast?

After a failed attempt at trying to put together a YouTube channel, I’m going to try my hand at podcasting. I know both YouTube and podcasting take the same time to produce, comparatively, I just felt it would suit me better to stay off screen and the amount of time I’m driving could make for some fun conversations.

I’m hoping to have the first episode live by the end of the month.

In the meantime, I’d love to take questions or ideas for future episodes. If you’ve been following me for a while, is there something you want to know about me?

Do you podcast? What platform do you use? Is it worth buying a mic and all that fancy gear?

Running Reset… Again!

A couple of months ago I got a new treadmill to train on. I normally am not a huge treadmill runner but I wanted to run more frequently, and with the winter being so cold, I thought it was a great training tool to purchase.

Immediately after setting it up I ran and I got this amazing feeling as I was running faster than I ever thought I could. I was crushing my old 5k PRs, I smashed a 10K PR and was crushing any number I had ever seen, stat wise, with my running. My previous 5k PR was 28 minutes (I think) but on the treadmill I was killin’ it at 20 minutes. My 10k time was just under an hour and now I was doing 43 minute 10k times. WHAT?

I had this feeling, this impending doom type of thing and knew I would have to come back to Earth at some point, I just didn’t think it would be an injury that would cause it. I’d rarely dealt with shin splints but I was starting to battle those and then my right achilles really started hurting, badly! I had issues with my achilles before and just took a couple weeks off and I would be good. This time it’s been over a month! I have so much going on that I have to run, I have goals to achieve.

Rather than get down on myself, I decided to do some proper things and go have my gait analyzed and look for a proper shoe; not the one’s I like but the one’s that work. I went to see the fine folks at Marathon Sports in Yarmouth. I’ve been following a local runner, Justin Torellas, for a while now and was psyched to see him working and able to help me. After making some observations, one being that I’ve been wearing the wrong size shoe for years, he brought out some shoes to try. After shooting the shit for a while and talking about some shared interests (yes he’s vegan too) I decided on the Hoka Bondi 5’s at size 9.5 not the 9 I thought I was.

I got the shoes home, laced up and went out the door. 30 minutes later, and 3 miles down, I walked back in the door. It’s a am zing what happens in a month when you don’t run or train at all. I was winded and the run sucked. I was miserable the whole time. My feet felt great though and here I am 24 hours later with no achilles pain whatsoever.

Unlike going into the treadmill training like a madman, I’m taking today off and am going to ease back into training until I can build back up to a daily run schedule. I’ve also got to shed some of the weight I added over the winter. Not only did I add some “winter weight” but I was on a muscle building program and went over my goal by about 10 pounds. Oh and eating less junk food might help too. I’m trying a more anti-inflammatory diet and may even do a 72 hour water cleanse.

We shall see though, I’m just excited to be running again!

Who’da thunk it?

You’ve all seen this meme more times than you can count, right? I know I have. Today though I saw it and wanted to write some things down about it; more specifically on how not only am I surviving but how I am flourishing while being vegan.

Now, I’m not going to boast about how awesome I eat, because to be honest, I’m a junk food vegan a fair share of the time. That said, having cut out animal products from my food my body has done some amazing things. At 43 I’m doing things I didn’t think were possible.

When I first started this I had really high cholesterol issues. In the first year alone I dropped my overall cholesterol by just under 70 points. I did not take any medications, I just ate better. I started exercising and started completing events I never dreamed of.

I was a smoker for nearly 25 years! I quit after my first year vegan and my lungs are healing rapidly. I run all the time and have no breathing issues. Sometimes if I run a bit to hard I do get wheezy but that’s what 25 years of tar and chemicals will do to you.

Don’t smoke kids!

About 6 months ago I started a weight training program. Throughout my entire life I have always had issues putting weight on and keeping it on; my metabolism is like a teens even in my forties! My goal was to get to 150lbs (I started at 142lbs). I’m not that tall ok, 5′ 5″ and 150 was a lofty goal for me. I presently weight just under 160lbs!

I didn’t do it with any animal protein or products.
Let me repeat, I did not consume any animal protein!

How am I still here?

Plant based foods have all the nutrition you need, including the ever elusive protein! Typically in a day I have oatmeal for breakfast. 1/2 cup of dry quick oats has 5g of protein, 27g carbs and 3g fat. That’s pretty decent, it’s not an abundance but you can add stuff to it like hemp seeds which have an additional 10g of protein in three tablespoons. Even adding 1/4 cup of soy milk add 2g more. That’s nearly 20g of protein, whoah!

I prep my lunches for the work week. Some examples of prepped meal are Jerk Tofu & Rice, Lemongrass Chickpeas w/ Quinoa, Miso Tempeh Chili, Andouille Sausage Jambalaya and much more. The protein in most of those are 20g or more. Dinners have a similar profile and at least 20-30g of protein.

Here’s a typical day (on the left, click for a larger version) when I was on the program and eating to gain. You will see a protein shake, and I did that to supplement what I couldn’t eat while at work. I work ten hours a day in my work-van, it’s helpful to supplement for me, not everyone has to do that. I also take a multi-vitamin in the morning and again, while lifting, was taking creatine.

If you look past that stuff I was still getting over 2,000 calories a day from food.

The point is, I’m alive and kicking. I’m smashing my goals and gaining, not losing.

Right now my training has changed and I’m on a running program so I’m not looking to add any more muscle; if anything I’m looking to trim down some of the weight while keeping the muscle. I do have two days I still use weights but 5 days a week are now spent running.

The awesome thing about being vegan is that I can tweak the foods I eat to reflect the training I’m on. For instance, my oatmeal every day now has 1/4 – 1/2 tsp of turmeric for inflammation. While I still use a protein shake for recovery, most of the other foods I eat will be to benefit the training. Can you do that and eat animals? Sure but you are eating animals and there’s a whole host of issues with that health wise and more importantly, with ethics.

No animals need to die for you to thrive.

You can get the nutritional needs your body requires being vegan.

Do your research and “eat like you give a f*ck!”

“How Can You Sit Down And Eat Your Mother?”

I’d been thinking of how to start this article for a while as it’s something I’ve already written about but I felt like adding some commentary. I also stumbled on some great talks by teachers that tackle the idea of veganism and Buddhist practice and I really wanted to share them and some quotes.

In Tibetan Buddhism it is believed that all living beings at one point or another were once your mother. This concept has some validity if you believe in rebirth. Since the universe is infinite and sentience is held by all living beings that have a central nervous system, having been born and reborn over and over it only makes sense that at some point anyone could have been your mother. I can explain more if need be, or provide a link to more info, but I think you get the idea.

That begs the question, so why go ahead and eat them?

I came upon a series of 5 videos on YouTube titled “I Don’t Eat My friends” by respected Tibetan Nun, Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo. She lays out a compelling argument, from a Tibetan Buddhist perspective, on why not to eat meat. She also touches on the all beings having been our mother theory, you can view in the video I linked.

There are also videos by another respected Tibetan teacher, Matthieu Ricard. Of course his videos solidify the beliefs and teachings of Tenzin Palmo.

The venerable Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh has had quite a bit to say about it. As mentioned in the other piece I wrote, Plum Village (the center he oversees) went vegan in 2007. You can watch a video where he was asked about veganism and why it’s better than vegetarianism. I’ve included a brief quote below.

“We don’t want to eat eggs, and drink cow’s milk, and eat cheese anymore because raising cows and raising chickens creates a lot of suffering.

If you have seen the suffering of the chicken, the suffering of the cows, you would not like to eat chicken, eat eggs, drink milk, or eat cheese anymore. It seems the system has been contaminated.

So to be vegan is not perfect but it helps to reduce the suffering of animals.”

Seung Sahn, founder of the Kwan Um School of Korean Zen, has had a bit to say about eating meat. In the “Compass Of Zen” he goes on to say:

“If we want to understand ourselves and help all beings get out of suffering, we must first understand where this world’s suffering comes from. Everything arises from our minds. Buddhist teaching shows that everything comes from primary cause, condition, and result. This means that some primary cause, when it appears under a certain condition, will always produce a certain result. So what is the reason for so many beings appearing in this world, and what is the result of it? Why is there so much suffering, and why does it seem to increase every day? Perhaps the most important reason for such a dramatic increase in the amount of suffering in this world is the increase in the amount of meat-eating that humans do. Before World War II, human beings did not eat so much meat. In Asia, people have always generally eaten meat only on special occasions, perhaps only twice a year, on one of the major holidays. Nowadays, Asians eat meat sometimes several times a day. The same has been true in the west for generations. This century has seen a very big increase in the amount of meat-eating on the planet.”

I find that interesting. If karma and it’s consequences are to be believed then this makes all the sense in the world. The more suffering that is caused, the more suffering is created.

While the Buddha did not specifically say one way or the other, he did not condone eating meat. His justification was that as long as it was not killed for the consumer, or the monk, than it was ok to eat. I’ve read about the three hand rule which basically means the meat has to pass through three hands to the consumer and it’s believed to not have any karmic consequence. I call bullshit!

To be honest, this sounds like a cop-out. As much as I hate to say it, one of the most well-known Buddhist teachers, the Dalai Lama, eats meat himself all the while telling others to eat vegetarian. Similar to what the Buddha said, the Dalai Lama has been quoted as saying, “it is all right to have meat of dead animals, not those slaughtered or purposefully killed for meat.” So I guess that means roadkill is ok? Or if you stumble upon a dead squirrel out in the yard? Again, this sounds suspicious and not something a “bodhisattva” should get behind.

What’s interesting on the whole is that the very first precept in Buddhism is not to take life or cause harm. I don’t know about you but that certainly sounds like a vegan thought to me.

What do you think?

 

 

 

 

Reflecting on 2017; Looking Forward to 2018

If there was ever a mixed bag of a year, 2017 was it.

Of course we saw the coronation of the cheeto in Chief, aka Beelzebub himself; Donald Trump. This 2017 recollection isn’t a diatribe on politics though, in spite of the fact 2017 has set us back as a nation so much so that I could write about 2,500 words on the subject. The only thing I will say is we can do better and we need to hit the polls in 2018 as a unified nation of citizens and reverse the damage this cantankerous administration has done.

Personally, 2017 had its ups and downs. Luckily there we more ups than downs. Here’s a brief list of the moments that stick out most to me.

1. My wife and I got to spend a well needed weekend away. A friend from SHVP was getting married so we extended the weekend and took in the sights. While NYC is not for us, we can appreciate what it has to offer. Evan and Jessica’s wedding though, in Brooklyn, was absolutely stunning and we are blessed to have been part of it.

2. My daughter got off the island (Cape Cod) and moved to Burlington, VT. If there’s one thing you wish for as a parent is that your children are happy. Xena seems to be happy with her move and she’s settling in to Burlington and meeting a bunch of friends. I could not be more proud of the person she has become and I look forward to seeing her grow as an adult and seeing where life takes her.

3. My wife and I became foster parents. One of my son’s friends was having a hard time and our son approached us to help out. We went through the grueling (no exaggeration) process of being approved with DCF to be able to house his friend. It’s been a few months, and while it’s trying at times, we really hope to see this guy succeed going forward.

4. My eldest son finally got what he wanted and we allowed him to try out for football. While it’s not our first pick for a sport that he could play, he did awesome at it. Every position he played he excelled at. His coaches understand the game and understand the players. While they push them hard they only do so knowing that the kids have individual skills to succeed. I can’t wait to see what his next season holds for him.

5. My youngest son prefers soccer and this year I volunteered to coach. Following the theme of ups and downs, our spring and fall were quite different from each other. The spring team that I co-coached went to the finals and won first place. Our fall team did not see as much success and were bumped from the first round. Regardless, my son (and both teams) had a bunch of fun and at the end of the day that is all that matters.

6. Running wise I took it easy this year and only did two Ragnar Relay races with Strong Hearts Vegan Power. The team decided to skip Cape Cod this year and did the Pennsylvania location which was quite interesting to say the least. It started in Amish country and that in and of itself was one of the many highlights of the year. The second race was a trail Ragnar, and was my first experience. We had a great team of runners for it and even won the REI camp site which was a completely furnished camping area. That made things a lot easier and we were able to just settle in and get our miles done.

7. For the umpteenth time in my life I tried to gain some weight and muscle mass. After getting in touch with Jordan From Conscious Muscle he put me on a workout routing that has been solid. For the very first time I added nearly 15lbs of bulk muscle. I weigh the most I ever have in my life and that at 43 years of age and as a vegan. But wait, as a vegan?? Yeah dude, I get plenty of protein! The plan is to shred a bit before running training starts, you will see soon the lofty goals I have for that!!

I’m sure I missed a ton of things. I’m positive I have but those were the big one’s that stand out.

Now 2018…

I don’t have many resolutions as I don’t think those truly come to fruition. There’s got to be more than a wish, there has to be a solid plan and action.

I have goals.

2018 will be a stepping stone as far as my running progress goes. 2019 will be my biggest year, see the ne tab up above in the menu titled “Run Across the Cape” for more info.

 

Besides a couple of local half-marathons I have some Ragnar Relays on the docket as well; hopefully another trail series.

 

In 2016 I did the 25k distance at the Vegan Power 25k/50k Ultra, two years later I will be doing the 50k distance. This will be my 2nd 50K and this time I plan to do a bit better.

2018 holds the promise of a new personal revolution as well. I’ve taken many things for granted these past few years and I’ve got to change that. I’ve got to be a better father, husband and friend. I’ve got to see with perfect clarity that my actions are not always about me, but about those that I love and hold dear.

So I raise my hazelnut coffee to you and cheer to the coming year.

Oh and I’m still alive and kicking even though I’m a protein deficient vegan. That’s unbelievable right?

Compassion: The New(ish) Vegan Activism

Just a few short years ago vegans were considered to be loud and obnoxious a**holes shouting at you while you shopped or dined. Now, vegans are still out there but the approach is more kind and compassionate.

image from anonymous for the voiceless websiteTake for instance the group Anonymous For The Voiceless. Quickly they’ve become a force to be reckoned with yet their approach is simple and effective. Using a method called the “Cube Of Truth”, activists in major cities (as of now over 250 cities worldwide) around the globe stand in a cube shape with signs and laptops/ iPads that are playing slaughterhouse footage. Most of them are dressed in black and they wear Guy Fawkes masks, synonymously known as the mask of hacker group Anonymous.

While it may seem intimidating to some, the “uniform” look is to make people approach the videos a bit more and not feel like they are being judged by someone. The mask gives the illusion of non-judgement since you cannot see the expression of the person wearing the mask. For some, who are still uncomfortable confronting the truth, it’s an easier way to cope. Whatever works; as long as it’s getting them to think rationally.

I think, for the most part, we’ve finally understand that veganism will never move forward if we don’t change the approach. This doesn’t mean that other activism isn’t effective. Protests against fur farms, puppy mills, horse tracks and circuses are surely worthy; they will always have a place in the movement. I think more people are coming on board because of compassionate protesting though.

image from toronto pig save siteTake for instance the vigil. While not new, the “bearing witness” vigil is getting more and more traction and more importantly, media attention. You’ve got groups like Toronto Pig Save that wait at slaughterhouses for trucks of pigs are brought in. While the trucks are transitioning the activists approach the trucks and try to show the animals inside some semblance of kindness before they are taken away. Whether it’s a loving rub on the snout or a mouthful of water, these processes are effective. What’s just as effective is the imagery created during and spread on social media after.

This may seem silly, but giving the animals that last glimpse can bring them a bit of ease. It doesn’t change the outcome, but it is worth that fleeting moment to show that animal the love they’ve never known.

There are many others ways that vegan activism is growing. Because of the kind and compassionate approach, veganism is seeing some of the strongest growth in years. Sure, there are other factors, but you have to take these things into account.

Have you ever participated in a cube of truth? How about a vigil? What was your experience like?

 

Vegan Shaming

Instagram and other forms of social media are becoming havens for bullies.

I don’t mean just the obvious ones; this post is not intended to diminish any of those.

The bullies I’m talking about not only put people down and make them feel like all the good they’ve done is meaningless and then they try to pilfer accomplishments from them like thieves. I’m talking about vegan gate-keepers.

For instance, I was reading a post on Instagram someone had made about them dropping by a Taco Bell and grabbing a bite to eat. They were travelling and were unfamiliar with the area so they got some food where they could. This person has posted a photo of a couple burritos which they had veganized. Taco Bell has been known to be quite open to making foods vegan for customers, just ask the Vegan Bros who swear by the stuff. Taco Bell has gone to great lengths to post info on their site to help vegans eat at their places, check out https://www.tacobell.com/feed/how-to-eat-vegan to learn more.

Anyway, within minutes a follower of theirs commented about how shitty the food was and because Taco Bell sells meat and dairy products that somehow the foods the poster was eating were somehow not vegan. They continued to lambaste them for it and made them feel small. a few other followers of course stood up to the bully but it just kept going and going until finally they were blocked from the page.

The fact of the matter is — this type of shaming does absolutely nothing to move veganism forward. These types of attacks do two things:

  • First, it makes the victim of the attack feel like garbage. Maybe they second guess what they are doing. “Why am I doing this? It’d be so much easier to just go back to the old way.” The attack does nothing to move that person forward, it sets them back.
  • Second, it makes the bully look like a no ifs and buts about it, a complete a$$hole. Comments like that make the person look like an arrogant douche-bag. It’s people like this that keep so many people away from this lifestyle. I said it before, but they act like the consummate gate-keeper of veganism. They choose to define it in their own terms, and if you don’t fit inside that pretty little bullshit box than you are not a vegan. F*ck that!

My point, don’t let those people get under your skin; you do you.

It took me so long to get to this point. I used to worry if I’d ever be vegan enough. One day I decided to wake up and not give a rats ass anymore. I stopped hiding behind the “plant-based” term and I became a vegan. If I can help you get there too, get in touch.

Turning A Blind Eye For The Movement

A couple of days ago I saw a post on the Vegan Bros Facebook page that instantly stirred up feelings of anger, frustration and disappointment. It was simply captioned, “Everyone’s going vegan.”

Normally I am totally on board with the crazy, over the edge stuff that Matt and Phil promote. When a celeb goes vegan they lose their ever-loving minds. I understand why, that person has a huge following and fans so it helps to popularize veganism and expose it to folks who maybe just fluffed it off.

Am I fan of Kylie Jenner? Nope, but what she does is her own thing. Miley? Yeah I’m not a fan of hers either so her announcement that she went vegan didn’t elucidate more than just a “yippee” from me. Over time though, I give her credit, it hasn’t been just a celebrity fad thing for her and she seems to be really passionate about it. Don’t get me wrong about celebrity veganism, it’s great; absolutely great!! Again it raises the presence of the movement into the public realm and you can’t buy that type of advertising. But when does it go to far?

But when a character like Adrian Peterson talks about becoming an 80/20 vegan (because he can’t drive by a Church’s Chicken without falling off the wagon); I cringe. I cringe because this man, just a short time ago, perpetuated violent behavior toward his own son. These are graphic photos, but if you have not seen them CLICK HERE for proof of what a monster he is. I commented on the Vegan Bros thread about this and got this response from another person who follows them:

My comment was cut short, I forgot to expand it before grabbing the screenshot from my phone. I actually went back a few minutes ago to get a better screenshot but it seems my comment has been deleted. When I said up above I was disappointed, this is the reason. Rather than take down the post about this piece of sh*t child abuser, they took my post off.

Part of what I had said in my comment that isn’t shown is, what if Michael Vick all of a sudden went vegan? Would the community just forget what he did because now he has a voice for animals? I don’t think so. Everyone would lose their minds and condemn him. But somehow it’s ok for Adrian Peterson to beat his child and then be held up on a pedestal because he all of a sudden went vegan, but still eats chicken.

**eyeroll**

“He’s trying!”

**eyeroll**

Yeah, I hear you.

But I cannot, and will not get behind this man monster. I apologize for all the profanity, but this really, REALLY burnt my ass and I felt that I needed to get it off my chest.

Am I wrong here?

When do we stop making excuses for people just because they are vegan?

Daiya Sells Out; The Day Vegans Became Unhinged

I have to admit, reading  news about Daiya being purchased by a pharmaceutical company (Otsuka) nearly had me foaming at the mouth. I was outraged. I felt like they had let me down and the whole vegan movement, they sold the f*ck out and I was so f*cking pissed off.

I watched the announcement online, as most folks did. You can watch the video below to see what the founders had to say.

Again, I was angry after watching that. I felt like they were being greedy d*ckheads who only cared about one thing, money. With all the other companies selling to larger corporations, it honestly didn’t come as a huge surprise.

Beyond Meat received investment capital from Tyson Foods.

Gardein was acquired by Pinnacle Foods.

Vega, So Delicious and Silk are owned by Danone.

Maple Leaf Foods recently bought Lightlife.

Unilever owns Ben & Jerrys and Breyers who have finally offered vegan ice creams.

I could go on for a bit, but I wanted to make a couple of points instead that could make all of this more positive than it is negative. The fact of the matter is; sometimes money talks. If a brand like Daiya is looking to expand but doesn’t have the money to do so, having an offer on the table to be able to grow and hit new markets is a must— especially if the right deal is struck and you get to maintain the ability to oversee how the company is run and have a say in its future. That’s pretty much what happened here.

We’ve all loved Daiya for years. They were the talk of the town at some recent expos and their new products are going to blow people away. Besides cheese they also have cheesecake, yogurt, salad dressings, cream cheese and mac & cheese. They’ve tweaked a bunch of the recipes over the past year and will be releasing them soon.

Back to the video and announcement. I was angry that I wouldn’t be able to try these products because Daiya had aligned with a company that is known to test its products on animals. Yes, Otsuka are big, huge, GIANT pieces of sh*t, there is no way of getting around it. It was hard to sit with this and try to rationalize why the acquisition could be a good thing. I came up with this reason and maybe a couple more.

It is quite possible that they (Otsuka) are legitimately trying to get out of the whole animal testing thing and are going more toward a plant-based business model; that seems to be what the Daiya guys think and I believe them to be stand up guys. They didn’t do this for the past (almost) 10 years to just throw up their hands and say f*ck it. These are passionate guys and you can tell in the video. You can also tell in their responses to all the posts on social media. While those same comments are canned, they are consistent in what they believe.

We got to look at this a different way and think that it might just help the movement. Daiya will be distributed all over the place now, imagine all those people who are going to get turned onto it and drop dairy. I know more than a few people who still have yet to make the final jump to full vegan and that’s because of cheese. Ya I know… But still, this move could be huge for them, especially if the new formula is as good as they say it is.

The fact of the matter is that we can’t jump off the proverbial bridge every time something like this happens. We can’t just yell “BOYCOTT” or hop over to change.org and get a petition going; that seems childish. It’s not always as black and white as it seems and may very well be a blessing in disguise. I will admit, for a few days I switched my cheese brand from Daiya to Go Veggie (it’s all my local market had).

I plan to go back to Daiya though because I like the product.

I plan to go back to Daiya because Otsuka needs to see that vegan foods are a growing market and they should get out of the animal abuse game. As I said before, money talks. If they see the growth they will invest more. If we take our toys and run away like children then Daiya fails and Otuska (and other investors) see the movement as a fad and move on.

I plan to go back to Daiya because I believe in what they think they are doing. I don’t own the business and I can’t tell them how to run theirs. If they believe this will help others than I am all for it.

Do what you want to do, I can’t tell you what to believe or think. I can tell you what I think and that’s now been said.

I’m interested in your civil comments, please let me know what your thought are now that there’s been a few days for this all to sink in.

Precious Metal; Republished and Repurposed

This past weekend, my two boys and I went camping with some of the Strong Hearts Vegan Power crew. One night, I was talking with Sam Hartman (SHVP team member and keyboardist for Anagnorisis) about music and stuff and it reminded me of an old article I had written showing the parallels of heavy/ death metal and Buddhism. I’m not sure how many of you knew this, but from 2000-2008-ish I was one of the founders and vocalist for a death metal band called Leukorrhea. The last recorded album I was involved with was titled “Breeding Salvation.” we had done a full length previous to that as well as a split CD that was released in Japan and one that was released in Italy. We also did had songs on a variety of compilation cd’s including one in rememberance of Chuck Schuldiner of the band Death.

Anyway, I dug for the article and with the help of my old friend Rod Meade Sperry (editor of Lion’s Roar Magazine) and I wanted to share it with you as I feel myself being pulled back to a life filled with mindful behavior and intention. Of course, being vegan you would think that it would come naturally. Of course it does when making food choices, but in making other decisions I find myself just existing to co-exist. I hope this article gives you some enjoyment, it is long so please bare with it; I promise it’s a fun story.

© Precious Metal (not to be used without permission)
© Precious Metal

WHAT COULD BUDDHISM HAVE TO DO WITH HEAVY METAL? If you’re not into metal, I guess the answer would be “nothing.” But if you’re me, the answer would have to be “everything.”

In 1983, at the age of 9, I went into a local department store. This was way before CDs, iPods, MP3 players, etc. (Now that I’ve completely dated myself.) I was perusing the music section and a cassette jumped out at me: it was Ozzy Osbourne’s Bark At The Moon. I took it home and was hooked. I knew right away that someday, somehow, I had to be involved with this music.

As things went on I was exposed to more bands. In 1985 I got Metallica’s Master Of Puppets and the metal bar had been raised. Next was Slayer’s Reign in Blood and it was all over: I had to have metal at all costs. I know the Buddha taught about attachment and how we should try to rid ourselves of it, but I had no idea about that then, and was immersed so deep I never wanted to come out. I still haven’t.

Over the years friends showed me stuff from bands like Megadeth, Death Angel, Death, Napalm Death, Rigor Mortis, Sanctuary, Morbid Angel, and on and on. We’d go into music stores, allowance in hand, and try to find the nastiest, grossest album-cover art we could find. One of us found Carcass’s Reek of Putrefaction, and we were in disbelief; what was this stuff, and how could anyone listen to it? But after hearing it over and over it grew on us — like a gangrenous infection. We would stay up late and watch Headbangers Ball on MTV (this was back when it was good), and soon we all picked up instruments and started learning Metallica songs and anything else we could get tablature for.

Ever since that first day I heard Ozzy, I knew I had to be in a band, and in my 20’s I did just that. We cranked out some songs, put out a demo and almost immediately a small label wanted to finance our first disc. How awesome was this, right? Our first CD got some decent reviews and people started writing letters and e-mails to us. (Yes, the internet had been invented by then). We were offered the opportunity to tour, and it was in Detroit, Michigan, that I realized my goal had been achieved: we were playing the I-Rock Cafe and on the wall was a picture of Ozzy standing in the same damn club, playing with Black Sabbath. I knew then and there that I could never give this up.
And while this was all well and good, it still felt like something was missing. I was entering my 30’s and reality had hit.

WHAT WAS IT I WAS LOOKING FOR, THOUGH? I have a wonderful wife and two great kids. I had a hobby that made me happy, a job that was going well. Still, we were just barely able to make ends meet, so we moved from Massachusetts (where I’d lived all my life) to Knoxville, Tennessee, where the cost of living was relatively low. We got settled in, found jobs and decent day-care, and really enjoyed Knoxville.

I worked during the day and my wife worked at night. I hadn’t met many people in Knoxville, so after my son was in bed for the night, I’d spend a lot of time on the internet. I honestly don’t know how it happened, but I got onto a Buddhist web-forum and started reading posts and checking out websites. One thing that kept coming up was karma: I knew that if you acted like a jerk you would get negativity back, and the same went for good deeds coming back as positivity. My interest was peaked and I started reading a lot more. It all felt right to me, like the part that was missing was filling up.

I started buying up books, reading them almost as quickly as it took me to pay for them and bring them home. One of the members of the forum mentioned a book by Thubten Chodron called Buddhism for Beginners. I went out and got it, and it helped me out so much. Rather than just being a book of plain text, it was in a Q&A format, and a lot of the questions were the same ones I’d started asking myself.

The big question was, What is the basic idea behind this thing called Buddhism? I learned that the answer was found in things that were easy to do: be a good person, don’t harm others, and be a help whenever possible. This was one of the simplest things I could hear, but also one of the most profound. There was no dogma, no over-zealous hypocrisy; just plain and simple guidelines on how to live a better life for myself and for everyone else around me. I read some more books and started getting into meditation. Almost immediately I started noticing changes. One of the biggest was that I could stay calm now when something major was affecting my life.

Eventually, the wife and I started to miss being with our family and friends. The hardest thing for me was that my daughter was still living in MA and we were in Tennessee. She had stayed when we moved because her mother (my first wife), understandably, didn’t want her to switch schools. We had worked out that I would get her on vacations and stuff, but that was harder than anticipated. It was difficult coming up with airfare, especially while still paying for food, rent, car payments, etc. We spoke often, and I sent her gifts via FedEx (that’s where I was working) but it just wasn’t the same. I was beginning to get discouraged about the whole move-thing. After my wife’s mother visited, bringing my daughter with her, we all decided that we had to do what we could and go back to MA so we could all be together.

All this time I was still learning as much as I could about Buddhism, reading books like a madman and absorbing the teachings as best I could. But I was running into issues here and there, and there seemed to be no one else into Buddhism where I was. Hell, I was in the Bible Belt of the US — where was I going to find another Buddhist? I started seeking out temples and centers but they were all over two hours away. So I kept seeking my answers online. The people on the forum I mentioned were helping me out more than they know.

One day as I was leaving work, I pulled out of my parking spot. By the time I had put it in gear to go forward, another car was already coming at me in reverse. I slammed on the horn hoping they would hear me, but they were either occupied with something else or not hearing me because their music was way too loud. (The bass was slamming me in the chest, it was so loud). I heard a crunch. We had an accident on our hands.

Normally I would have gone berserk, cursing and yelling (maybe even frothing at the mouth a little), but not this time. I took a deep breath, got out of the car and assessed the damage: the other car was more hurt than mine, which had just a couple scratches. I asked the woman who was driving if she was ok. She was, but she seemed astounded at my reaction, as if she was expecting the reaction of an insane person. I was aware, though, that acting that way would probably just elevate the situation to one neither of us would want to deal with. I attribute this to nothing else but the things I was learning about Buddhism and mindfulness. There were of course plenty of other events that “tested” what I was learning. But my ability to change seemed real.

THE FUNNY THING ABOUT BUDDHISM AND METAL is how, in my life, one’s taught me about the other. Being a metalhead I’ve heard more than my share of songs about death, pain, misery, etc. How can I draw a parallel with Buddhism, you ask? I can do it in one word: impermanence! Buddhism teaches how to cope with things like death by reminding us that everything in life is impermanent — including life itself. Death is always around the corner. And we don’t have to be scared about it. We can embrace it by realizing that all beings, no matter who they are, will eventually expire. In this way, metal helped prime me for my path.

You might ask, though, how can I still be a metalhead, writing lyrics that maybe talk of harming another person, or consist of morbid horror stories, and also practice Buddhism. Some might even say I can’t do both at the same time, but I very strongly disagree. Just because I want to be a good person doesn’t mean I can’t listen to “Hammer Smashed Face” by Cannibal Corpse. Yeah, the lyrics are WAY over the top, but they’re just lyrics. It’s just a song, and if you can come to terms with reality and non-reality, I don’t think it’s an issue at all. Some might even pose a similar question to Richard Gere or other well-known celebrity-Buddhists: How can they, in a material world like Hollywood, overcome the very obstacles that Buddhism teaches about? And, look at Gere’s movie, “Pretty Woman.” It was about a rich and powerful real-estate guy and his “relationship” with a hooker. Yeah, there was more to it than that, and it actually was a good movie, but you would think a Buddhist couldn’t do a movie like that and still have some sort of clout, right? But look at what he does off-screen. He has taken teachings from many prominent lamas, including the Dalai Lama. He donates money to various causes, he’s a chairman on the International Campaign for Tibet, and that’s just some of the good things that he does. So why would being involved in metal music, if it doesn’t compromise one’s contributions, be any different?

My answer: it isn’t. If you’ve got the right mindset about it, nothing has to be a “bad” thing. I’ve written most of the lyrics to my band’s songs, and every now and again have strayed from just gore lyrics: I’ve written songs about the Iraq War and about the Catholic Church Scandal in Boston and the rest of the US. I’m concerned about real issues, big and small.

Still, people have this idea that metalheads couldn’t possibly do any good. I think differently about that. Even before starting my practice I liked to think of myself as a compassionate person, and thought the same of quite a number of metalheads around me. I’ve been to many shows that either donated the proceeds to a good cause like the Hurricane Katrina Fund, Autism Now, or other charities. I’ve seen many shows that were dedicated to people that had something to do with the metal scene over the years but who had passed on. We don’t take life and death nearly as lightly as some seem to think.

PERSONALLY, with Buddhism, I notice positive change, especially to the areas that need it, every day. Even in the seemingly-most mundane ways. Like, nowadays, I won’t be so quick to give you the finger; I’ll say hello back and smile without judging or thinking you’re a freak. Hell, I may be a freak to you, right? And I’m more apt now to pick up the sponge and just wash the dishes. My wife used to hate that about me — I was a lazy prick. But after reading a book by Thich Nhat Hanh, I realized that doing the dishes was a great time to just be with myself, and just do the dishes. To be able to slow down and just take time to be with my mind.

See, being a metalhead doesn’t make me a primitive thug with a one-track mindset. And it doesn’t mean I want to rip your head off cause I wrote that in my lyrics, or that I want to see your guts exposed on the sidewalk. It’s an art! Writing a song is very similar to writing a horror-movie script, just a lot shorter. And just because some may not understand it, it doesn’t mean it’s sick, or demented. One song idea I am working on has some potentially very gruesome overtones, and could easily be misunderstood — but I’ve been trying to steer clear of typical gore lyrics, and instead relate actual events. Example: in Tibet there is a form of burial called sky burial, or jhator (bya-gtor) in Tibetan. It’s actually not officially considered a “burial,” more a gift of alms to the vultures. Of course, Buddhists know that when we die the body is pretty much useless from then on out. So the Tibetans offer the corpse to the birds. A man comes in after the body is laid down and works to cut it up into several pieces. This sends the vultures into a feeding frenzy and, very quickly, the body disappears. And while this may seem somewhat normal to Buddhists who understand it, someone unfamiliar with this practice would probably be horrified by the whole process of sky burial.

Likewise, I hope people won’t jump to the conclusion that I’m a bad person (or a “bad Buddhist”!) for writing horror-inspired lyrics. Can I not practice compassion and kindness because I wrote a song that was based on Ted Bundy? Reality is scary sometimes — people die, people get killed by other people. The news reports it. Movies are made about it. Books are written about it. Lessons are learned from it sometimes, too. Just because my music is loud and my lyrics are over the top, does it mean I can’t feel love for all sentient beings?
I say, no; there doesn’t have to be a conflict of interest. It’s not hard being a good person and still living a subversive lifestyle. We can all be good people, no matter who we are. We can all have hobbies, or things that make us feel good without compromising the other important things in life.

I contend that being a metalhead helped me become a Buddhist. It took lots and lots of practice to achieve the things that our band did. And to achieve the things I want now, like a better life for all sentient beings — whether they are metalheads, punks, hip hoppers, goths, ravers (do they even exist anymore?), or just regular Joe Schmoes — that’s going to take practice, too.

That basically sums up Buddhism for me, it’s practice.

And as I get better at it, those around me will be better off as well.

ps. The image attached to this post is copy-written, I had it commissioned for my old blog and permission is needed to use anywhere other than here or on my old blog, Precious Metal.