Nuggets From Milo Runkle's Call

Posted by Tejas Doshi on Sep 22, 2019
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Last Saturday, we had the privilege of hosting Awakin Call with Milo Runkle.

Milo (Nathan) Runkle is a leading global vegan activist who founded Mercy for Animals (MFA), the world’s largest farm animal protection and vegan advocacy organization, at age 15. MFA focuses on protecting animals raised and killed for food by conducting undercover investigations and open rescues on factory farms—bringing cameras in and animals out to expose the truth about an ugly system. MFA also engages in legal advocacy to bring abusers to justice, and advocates for stronger animal protection laws and practices globally. MFA has a presence in countries covering over one-half of the human population. Born in a fifth-generation farm family, Milo's best friend as a child was a rat named Caesar, who taught him at an early age that all animals are equal. Runkle has also been involved in efforts to create a healthy, humane, and sustainable food supply via clean meat and plant-based foods.

Below are some of the nuggets of wisdom from the call that stood out for me:

"I had this natural connection towards animals and empathy towards them...I was always able to put myself in their paws and their position long enough to think about what life was like for them. I always knew there was someone looking back at me from those eyes...someone was having an experience just as I was someone with consciousness."

"I went on one hunting trip with my uncle when I was 8 years old...I will never forget that experience. I was with my uncle and this rabbit was shot and I saw the rabbit trembling in fear...that image will always be trapped in my mind...these 3 larger beings causing fear and suffering on this rabbit who was just going about her felt so wrong in my core."

"I learned about factory farms when I was 11 during a car ride reading a brochure and by the time I returned home, I told my mom I was going to be a vegetarian. I realized I could choose kindness."

"I always felt like I was following an internal compass. it was just a calling that I had no choice but to follow. At 13 I convinced my parents to drive me to DC for an animal rights conference and I started to see the world in a different way. We can drive positive change, we can be heart-centered, we can extend our circle of compassion. Mercy for Animals grew out of that."

"Part of my empathy grew from being perceived as something other than who you actually were. Knowing at a young age that I was different in many ways from the other kids I interacted with and then realizing I was gay when I was older...facing a lot of judgment and oppression and othering as a child, especially 35 years ago in rural Ohio."

"My parents played a huge role in my journey. They believed in allowing us to follow our own paths. They created the space for me to explore. I see now that not everyone growing up has that support in their family."

"For a long time it felt like separate issues and I was trying to win people over to this issue or that issue but now I see that they're all interconnected. I am seeing the interconnectedness of all of these "issues". If we move all of these issues, LGBT rights, the rights of women and children, the environment, animals, if we see these as separate issues it feels like that game where you are just knocking down what's coming up. But when you look at it, these issues are outward manifestations of our inner comes down to the connection with our inner space and how that manifests in our relationships."

"We have to address our inner states to change the outer world. I experienced a hate crime at one point in my life...the experience really pushed forward for me how real suffering is. I woke up thinking I would never be able to look at myself in the mirror again...part of that was deepening my relationship with my physical vessel and realizing how impermanent everything is...but the deepest lesson was about forgiveness. I had a choice I could make. I could claim to a victim role, not rest until there was justice, or I could focus on my own healing, physical, mental, emotional healing and use this as a deep practicing in forgiveness and use this as a way to have real love and sympathy for whoever did this to me. Clearly the inner connection of the person who did this was tormented."

"Part of moving towards unconditional love means you can't compartmentalize, especially in a society where there is pressure to take sides and demonize certain groups. Very few people aspire to a life working on the kill floor of a slaughterhouse. These are the people that do the underbelly jobs of a society who would rather look the other way. Many of these workers suffer very deeply, not only physically (slaughterhouses are dangerous jobs) but they also suffer mentally and emotionally. The rates of PTSD is incredibly high. I have a deeper level of empathy and compassion for people that are caught in this system."

“To me, when we talk about the issue of our treatment of animals and our food system and transforming it, it really is about compassion, and not just compassion for animals, but for those who are forced to do work that causes a lot of suffering. And I think that can be a difficult way of viewing it when people want to see enemies and monsters and people to point their finger at for challenges that we face. It's much harder for us to look at our own actions and see how we may be contributing to this. And how do I have compassion and empathy for those that are caught in this system? But I think that is the truth. That is the honest way of looking at it and it requires more courage for us to look for solutions.”

This work of animal protection and environmental protection is that you're facing slaughterhouse lines and literally billions of animals being killed every year. How do you maintain love and hope and inspiration through that? How do you see the world not as black and white, but celebrate the greatness of it. I think when we're able to celebrate the greatness in life, we're able to see that other people are not just enemies or bad guys, but that they are oftentimes doing the best that they can with what they have. It's in that unfolding of that awareness that we're able to have a deeper level of empathy and compassion, and even love and especially love for others that maybe at some point in my life I've felt only anger or fear towards.”

"There is a fear that if we are not focused on a punitive approach we are ignoring the harm and to me, that is a false dichotomy. You have to understand where the "oppressor" is coming form. Animal rights are about human wrongs and to help animals we have to help people. Where there is abuse, we have to help the abusers prevent more abuse. Often times people who engage in abuse are victims of abuse and violence themselves. We like to point fingers and prosecute and persecute and then say the is job done. But we have to go deeper. What is their internal state? What is it about our society and our view of men and the emotions that they are allowed to express? That's where we can start to have a deeper level of social change but that takes a lot of internal change."

"Animals are here with us, not for us. They have a mind, they have consciousness, they have feelings."

I've worked to broaden my experience of the human experience by practicing Vipassana meditation, yoga, shamanic plant medicine. I feel like I'm now coming back into a state of raja, the energy of doing after much being and reflecting. It's really the gradation between being and doing that great change and transformation can come."

"Since starting Mercy for Animals at the age of 15, I feel like I've been built with it. It's been such a teacher for me. It's been very humbling. Often times we think we have a solution or we experience judgment. The more you know the more you realize you don't know. Being open to constant learning and also constantly looking for our own shadows and finding joy in that journey. It's also a realizing that we can find joy in service, it's a matter of human connection and relationships. This organization and movement is a series of relationships."

"Our pull towards a mindfulness practice can come in many different forms. Any way we can make compassionate, meatless eating available for people, this can be an opening for them towards more mindful and compassionate living."

“Right now the three main considerations that people make with their food choices are cost, taste and convenience. And if you notice, ethics is not currently one of these considerations. I think we need to shift that, but if we can address cost, taste and convenience -- if we can make plant-based eating compete or excel beyond the conventional animal-based proteins, then that's a good thing. And I think oftentimes when people take one step and they start to embrace a certain way of being, it opens the door for other ways of thinking and being.”

“Over time and various meetings, a relationship developed between Jim Purdue and Leah Garcia, who is now the president of Mercy for Animals. They made an announcement which sent ripples throughout the entire chicken industry, that they were going to adopt a precedent-setting set of animal welfare changes. That was a huge deal and it's still a huge deal. They're still implementing it. It's opened the door for improvements to take place that will affect many millions of other birds.”

"There are many years where a driver of my advocacy was punitive, anger and fear-driven by tactics of shame. This exists in a lot of movements and I understand why when you're faced with so much suffering, anger is a natural response. But the real power comes in moving towards a place of love. For me, it's holding that space and hopefully being able to show there are other ways we can engage with this issue and being open. I think we're at the beginning stages of the animal movement trying to look at this. Burnout is such an epidemic in this movement and that is a testament to being driven by anger and fear. I hope there is a deeper evolution, not just because I think it's more effective for the world but those who choose to live in a space of service and see so much suffering deserve so much and need self-care and love."

Lots of gratitude to all the behind-the-scenes volunteers that made this call happen!

Posted by Tejas Doshi | | permalink

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Comments (3)

  • Ariel Nessel wrote ...

    Having the opportunity to go deep into my friend Milo's evolution was meaningful for me. Your highlights of the call Tejas speak to Milo's awesome wisdom, informed through being a vessel for and amplifier of compassion. From the early days of our friendship, when he was just a teenager, it was easy to see that he was an old soul.

  • Preeta Bansal wrote ...

    Dear Tejas and Ari - it was a beautiful call! Thanks so much for bringing forth so much wisdom. Ari, I especially enjoyed your final question about intersectionality and the ever-narrowing filters that can create. And Tejas, your always strong and gentle presence is such a joy -- even across phone lines. Thanks to you both.

  • Ariel Nessel wrote ...

    Wow, you listened to the whole interview Preeta! My friendship with Milo feels more robust then ever thanks to this opportunity to connect with him through Awakin. Feeling grateful.