My life as a rat

(Originally written on April 28, 2010)

I used to be a Rat, you know the kind that spends time in a Rat Race.

In that Race, I had to look good for the task at hand. Rats spend a considerable amount of energy looking the part and I spent my fair share of time making sure I fit in from every angle.  I wore the right clothes with coordinating shoes, purse and jewellery, drove a nice car etc.

In the race, one has to perform the normal functions of a living thing, such as breathing, eating and drinking to keep going. Breathing came naturally as it does for all living things – never mind that the breathing was rapid and shallow on stressful days – at least I was breathing.  But nourishing myself?  Well that was usually an afterthought even though good nutritious food was as necessary for my survival as the air I breathed in. You see, eating well takes time, and time is a commodity almost non-existent in the lives of Rats.

Rats, like the one I was, usually skip breakfast. Between getting dressed, fighting the traffic and pacifying the beeps emanating from my blackberry, a good breakfast was as far-fetched as a homeless man spending a day getting pampered in a spa.  I’d deal with the hunger only when my body forced me to, usually out of embarrassment at around 10 a.m., when the growls from deep within my rat belly became impossible to muffle.  The tiniest voice in my rat brain would squeak out, “please make it a healthy one today“.  But alas, stopping to find (or heaven forbid, bringing from home) a healthy snack would surely have kicked me out of the time-stamped Rat Race.  So I would yell back at the voice, “It’s just going to have to be what’s convenient, today.”  Besides, organic brownies and a low-fat latte from Starbucks could not be as bad as coffee and a donut, now could they?

At lunch time, similar arguments would take place deep inside the hollows of my rat head. I knew I needed to eat better quality food, but fast food was cheap, abundant and convenient. Good food was not. Good food was available to those who had time, to those who cooked at home. But the Rat Race had me pegged for everything but time.

And then there was dinner – that all-important “main meal” of the day.  Well dinner was usually wedged in as a postscript, between the last corporate report that had to be filed before the day was out, and sleep.  It had to be quick and convenient. Like lunch, it was usually unplanned, because that kind of forethought would have taken time.

As a Rat, I was wealthy; the Corporation usually paid Rats well. I had a nice house in a gentrified neighbourhood, vacations every year and all the creature comforts a Rat could want. I lead a nice lifestyle, or so I thought. Food was only consumed because it was the fuel required for me to keep going, like gas for my lawn mower; it was a commodity like baked beans in a can – did the Heinz brand really offer better quality beans than the house brands for the few cents more they charged? I really had no clue and I did not care.

So after many years in the Rat Race living the life I considered to be a good one, one day my little rat wheel hit a pothole – actually, it hit a mother-load of potholes. In spite of all the money I made, my little rat body was quite poor and literally bankrupt nutritionally, and my wheel came to a squealing and grinding stop.

That is when I made my transformation from Rat to Human Being.

Slowly, while my wheel was “out of commission” I began acknowledging how drunk I had become on Corporate Koolaid. On the Corporation’s website were bold and wonderful statements about how much they respected their Rats’ work/life balance, yet in reality I was rewarded for being the “dedicated Rat who met all her deadlines, efficiently, effectively and within budget”, all possible because I gave up my personal time to do so – time which would have allowed me to truly balance my human life with my Rat life.  My greed for monetary wealth and the Corporation’s insidious need to keep the Rats rallying to their call was a picture that became so wrong in my mind’s eye – I never went back.

Instead, I discovered the wondrous and magical power that time offers a human being. With this time, I created food for pleasure, relished each bite like it was the last kiss from a lover and trained my mind and body to live with less. I meditated and worked out and made some white space in my life; my family came to know a newer, gentler and happier me. And while I no longer earned the money I used to, my life became wholesome and rich in so many intangible ways. I finally had the time to discover more about the food that went into my body, how it affected me, where it came from and what impact it had on our Earth and the environment.  I hung out at farmers’ markets and made new friends.

And, I became my own boss, in charge of this delightful small food business.

I no longer hold any desire to accumulate wealth at the expense of my personal down time. I no longer want my food fast and I no longer want to spend my life running around in a wheel that goes nowhere.

A human being is not a Rat and thankfully I know that, now.