Hello, dear ones!
Just a heads up, this one gets a tad heavy. If you're just here for the almond milk (no judgement), scroll your way down there and get going on some zero-waste homemade earth-friendly nutty goodness! Otherwise, read on. I love you.
There is so much violence in our world. So much that it feels totally overwhelming at times; I often back away from this reality because I feel so completely impotent when confronted with it. And of course, there's not only the physical violence we humans commit against ourselves and one another, but also intense emotional violence. Not to mention violence against our stunning, abundant, fragile planet and the beings we share it with. I'm ridiculously privileged not to have experienced or witnessed much of this devastation firsthand, but it's so palpable, isn't it? It's in the news, images and reports of violence on scales from individual to global. It's in the air we breathe, the roads we travel, the screens we stare into, the reflections we admonish in the mirror.
That's a bit of a bummer to start out with, but it's important to acknowledge. Feeling powerless is an uncomfortable challenge for me (hi, my name is Jaimie and I'm a control freak), and sometimes leaning into that sense of chaos and finding peace there is right and good. However, there's inhabitable space between "completely ineffectual" and "fully in control of what happens in the world." Meaning, there are plenty of concrete actions we can take against violent acts (standing up for someone who's being bullied, voting for people who care about protecting the earth, refusing to buy into industries fueled by brutality, breathing love/acceptance into ourselves so we can shine it out to others) without taking on the responsibility of ending all horrible things. There's a lot of us and what we do matters, even the small things.
Here's where ahimsa comes in. Meaning physical/mental/verbal "non-harming" or "non-violence," ahimsa is the first yama (or restraint) in the Yoga Sutras. It can be distilled down to a few key principles:
- Violent thoughts breed violent actions, and we have the capacity to develop a level of control over our thoughts. As my teacher said when lecturing on ahimsa during yoga school, "You cannot perform an action of violence if you have not thought about it first."
- Judgements, criticisms and projections onto others all constitute violence. Eek! Yeah, of course we all do this, but the first step toward cultivating love instead of conflict is to notice these tendencies and gradually replace them with compassion and connection. Fun fact: yoga means "union," as in recognizing the nature of our oneness with all creation. Violence directed externally = violence directed internally, and vice versa.
- Turning violence onto ourselves can take many forms, like pushing too hard physically, eating things we know are rubbish for us, and being overly self-critical. Asking yourself, "Where in my life am I not honoring myself or my body?" is a good place to start investigating how this might show up in your habits. When we are compassionate toward ourselves, it really does spill over into our interactions and relationships.
When I learned about ahimsa, my teacher spoke about viewing asana practice (yoga poses) through a lens of nonviolence, starting with the breath. She directed us to breathe fully and expansively, but so gently that the flow of air in and out of our nostrils was barely perceptible. This was such a profound change that rippled out into my whole physical reality during that class. If you know me or have read words on this blog you'll know this: any shift from effort into ease is a real world-rocker for me, because strain is pretty much my default setting.
Okay, so where does almond milk factor into all of this?
Ahimsa is actually the root of the Hindu practice of vegetarianism. Though that tradition doesn't necessarily extend to refraining from dairy, living out a principle of non-violence inspires me to look at all my choices more discerningly. Sorry to say it, but the modern dairy industry is rife with brutality. Cows are repeatedly (often forcibly) impregnated to keep milk flowing, calves are separated from their mothers, boy calves are slaughtered for veal, dairy cows’ lives are short and stressful, and intensive milk production can result in illnesses like lameness and mastitis.
Our environment also suffers violence for the sake of dairy milk. Almond milk definitely deserves its bad rap for being a resource-intensive product; almonds require a lot of water to grow, and almost all the almonds grown in the U.S. come from drought-ridden California (don't worry, you can use pretty much any nut or seed in this recipe if almonds bum you out). However, the dairy industry is just so much worse on this front. Between water for growing feed, water for hydrating the cows, and water for cleaning dairy facilities, the water footprint of milk is significantly bigger than that of almonds, especially because when you dilute almonds into milk, you’re consuming less overall.
This is honestly not about pushing my vegan agenda! I completely respect everyone's dietary choices; food is complex and emotional and encompasses so much more than simple nourishment. But this is one way I find ahimsa in my life, by assessing and changing habits that I see as unsupportive of peace. There is an absolute ton of that to find and root out, and I'm by no means even close, but taking small steps in a positive direction makes me happy. And of course, it's good ahimsa practice to be gentle with ourselves and let go of perfectionism on this journey. "The perfect is the enemy of the good," as the saying goes, and I constantly need reminding of this because my Virgo-brain is very stubborn .
When it comes to this particular small step, it's pretty convenient that homemade almond (or any nut) milk is easy, economical, and bonkers delicious.
A quick note on soaking: do it. It makes the milk milky and it's essential for neutralizing phytic acid, making the nuts easier to digest and their nutrients more available to your bod. A longer soak time will yield creamier milk, but you MUST drain/rinse/cover with new water at least once a day, or things will get real funky real fast.
1 cup raw almonds
water for soaking
3-4 cups water (use less for thicker, creamier milk)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 date, pitted (or a drizzle of honey or maple syrup)
pinch of sea salt
Put your almonds in a quart-sized mason jar and cover generously with water. Allow to soak for 8-48 hours, draining, rinsing, and covering with new water at least once a day.
Drain and rinse the soaked almonds. Place in a blender along with 3-4 cups water and any additional flavorings you'd like. Blend on high until everything's nice and pulverized (about 1-2 minutes).
Using a nut milk bag (or cheesecloth or clean t-shirt), strain the liquid back into your jar, squeezing out all the goodness you can. The pulp that's left should be quite dry!
Keep your almond milk refrigerated and use within one week. It will separate as it sits around (no weird emulsifiers here), so just give it a shake before using.
The best use I've found for the leftover pulp is as a body scrub: mix 1 cup of pulp with 2-3 tablespoons liquid oil (olive, almond, sesame, whatever you want) and get ready for insanely soft limbs. Make sure to keep it in the fridge and use within 2 days.
And there you have it, groovy people! One delicious way to practice ahimsa as you go about your days. The next time you experience a situation with potential for violent thoughts, words or actions, see if you can react with softness and clarity, remembering that we are all connected.