This movie. My goodness, this movie. I posted a picture of my dog on my Instagram last night as I was trying to fall asleep but couldn’t get Okja out of my mind and it’s taken me a full 24 hours to really process it. You know when movies just stick with you? This was one of those.
Okja is available on Netflix, it stars Jake Gyllenhal and Tilda Swinton, and it received a 4-minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival sooo if those things aren’t compelling enough, then I don’t know what is. Go watch it tonight – I promise you won’t regret it.
Before watching, I only had a vague idea of what it was about. I thought it was going to be a cute story of girl and her giant pig, they get separated, they struggle, they reunite, happily ever after. I wasn’t totally wrong but I also wasn’t expecting to get rocked to the core like I was. And I’m *already* living my life in a way that demonstrates my love for animals. I already “woke up”. I already went through my battles to get here and I already fought my inner compassion, tooth and nail, to resist having to change. AND YET. Okja shook me. I haven’t cried that hard in a movie since Earthlings – perhaps because now that my heart is more open it’s becoming easier to cry in general, but also because it served as a reminder of how far we have yet to come, how much work we still have to do.
I’ve lived my pretty easy vegan life for a while now and it has often felt like all is right in the world, finally. I’m living in alignment with my highest self (at least when it comes to this topic), I have 3 beautiful furry critters that I share my home with (and one beautiful human critter too), and I eat life-giving foods every day that heal, protect, and feed my body and spirit. Life is great. And then I watched Okja and my little idyllic vegan bubble was burst in a new way. I had nearly forgotten why I was vegan – it’s just habit now. I share pictures of yummy food and daydream about things I want to eat and that’s that. I love my animals and I speak up when I need to but overall, I’m living a pretty “chill” vegan life. But Okja reignited the flame that got me started in the first place. It reminded me that most people have not *arrived* yet. Most people are still living in darkness, choosing ignorance (and thus suffering) over truth (and thus life and freedom). Most people have Okja in their home (maybe in the form of a dog, cat, fish, flying squirrel… any animal you call your little friend) and they *still* choose to put Okja on their plates for dinner. This is the dissonant world we live in and while I’m over here living a great little vegan life, I nearly forgot that most people still aren’t there yet. I cried in the shower later, overwhelmed by it all.
The story presented in Okja is not new to me but it made me realize that being vegan, eating plant-based, has become my comfort zone. And while I’m sparing animals daily, what else am I actively doing to continue to fight for them? Is it enough just to not eat them? For many people, the answer to that is “yes” and that is great, but what about for me? Am I okay with staying in that comfort zone, or am I ready to become a more active voice, even if it makes things uncomfortable? What if people stop taking me seriously the minute I get labeled an animal lover? What if by trying to do more good I turn more people away? Before I was vegan I thought animal activists were weird and annoying and I would have quickly tuned them out if they tried to burst my tightly sealed dissonance bubble. I probably had all the feelings those of you that are reading this might be having. I thought they were fucking crazy/annoying/overly sensitive, etc. I judged them and I thought myself superior, like being tough and not having a heart for animals was a good thing, a form of social status. But if therapy and growing up have taught me anything it’s that building walls around yourself protects no one, least of all you. When I was faced with such undeniable truth (about the suffering of animals for my consumption), my wall collapsed and this more gentle, compassionate person emerged. I’m now the person who cries during a hike when seeing a turtle in the middle of a forest just walking along my hiking path. Like I literally cried just at the sight of an unexpected turtle. (Not even kidding). So to say I’ve changed is an understatement. I care now, and thats a powerful thing. I’ve always cared but I was so terrified of caring, of admitting what I knew in my gut, of having to change, that I resisted it my entire life, until I watched Earthlings. And last night, after becoming comfortable as my turtle-crying vegan self, I realized I need to do more. The moment you find yourself in a comfort zone is the moment you must change.
I’m not sure what this means or what I will do differently just yet. Those fears and ‘what ifs’ are still very much there and I’m trying to find a balance between being accessible, meeting people where they are, being compassionate towards humans (often the hardest to find compassion for, I’ll admit), and actively fighting for what I believe in. I’m open to suggestions from anyone who has been there, regardless of your cause. I want to know how I can be a more active presence in the fight for the lives of innocent beings while also being effective at creating change within my fellow humans. Whatever this ends up looking like and what I will learn, I do not know, but I do promise to do more. How can I be of service to the voiceless, the innocent, the ones who cannot fight for themselves? That’s my next mission, and if anyone wants to guide me or join me, I’ll take all the help I can get.
Thanks for reading, for being open minded and open hearted, and for doing what you can today to seek your own truth.