I found myself drawn to the National Animal Rights conference in Los Angeles and was surprised by many things, mostly internal.
I found out about the National Animal Rights conference by a series of coincidences, but as I finally figured out, I was really called and drawn for reasons beyond the surface interest.
I made some new friends and got a lot of good information, and like many conferences, it was rich with education.
In some ways, though, I participated in the conference the same way I started out many years ago my first year at the Barbara Brennan School of Healing: keeping a low profile, and in quite a bit of denial.
Back then, the denial had to do with the collision between my identity as a lawyer–a Wall Street lawyer, with all the conventional credentials: rational, left-brain, accomplished: what was I doing in a room full of people who claimed to see angels (some even wore tie-dyed shirts!). They were massage therapists, chiropractors, hypnotherapists, healers; they were this, I was that.
It took a few years to realize how big my heart was, and that I too had intuitive gifts, and that I too was a healer.
It took still more years after that to put it all together. These were years, writing about how healing is larger than "medicine," and devoting an academic career to creating foundations for the evolution of law at the crossroads of medicine, healing and spirituality. I finally came to realize that consciousness is a huge phenomenon, and that I would have to the same integration within that the movement was trying to create on the outside.
It was really only when I got my Harvard Medical School faculty appointment that I learned that I could stand in the world for blending all these seeming opposites, while having myself ground in both worlds.
This time, the denial was far more conventional. Was I really part of this group? Could I be seen wearing the name badge? Would I be identified with people who themselves perform outrageous acts in the name of animal liberation? Would my friends think me odd?
It is simply a lot on the psyche to really recognize the violence of the world we live in. When you eat a pizza, do you want to see, in your minds eye, hands reaching into a whirring machine that separates the male from female chicks and discards males by the hundreds? And all the other graphic images in films about the way the modern food industry creates so much distress, terror, and unnecessary suffering on so many lives.
This is not my soapbox, but I do feel a responsibility. I do believe now that we are the voice of the animals, and that a genocide is ongoing, mostly silent and not witnessed–and that the psychic numbing that separates us from witnessing and acting is a larger psychological chasm that separates us from our own humanity.
It was interesting, having recently re-read Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. He takes the position that nobody lacks a conscience–rather, some people refuse to listen to the voice of their conscience. That’s psychic numbing.
When confronted with images about how animals are treated as they are made into food, many people do not want to know. It’s almost unbearable. I like the book title, "The Face on Your Plate." It’s almost too much to take in.
One of the highlights of the conference was listening to Melanie Joy, a psychologist-professor who is the author of Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism. Here’s one quote from her remarkable book:
"Becoming aware of the intense suffering of billions of animals, and of our own participation in that suffering, can bring up painful emotions: sorrow and grief for the animals; anger at the injustice and deception of the system; despair at the enormity of the problem; fear that trusted authorities and institutions are, in fact, untrustworthy; and guilt for having contributed to the problem. Bearing witness means choosing to suffer. Indeed, empathy is literally ‘feeling with.’ Choosing to suffer is particularly difficult in a culture that is addicted to comfort–a culture that teaches that pain should be avoided whenever possible and that ignorance is bliss. We can reduce our resistance to witnessing by valuing authenticity over personal pleasure, and integration over ignorance.
Joy makes that point that we have come to see something horrific as ‘natural, normal and necessary.’ She is an astute observer of the psychological defense mechanisms that keep us from seeing the truth about how our eating habits reinforce and perpetuate a culture of violence.
Equally astute were her observations about shaming and blaming, and how dominant cultures oppress and silence minorities by marginalizing and labeling them as weird, deviant, etc. I had no trouble standing up for energy healing and complementary approaches to health and healing, including spirituality, long before this was popular….but to endure social stigmas and pressures associated in this new, yet vitally related area…this is an area of struggle for many. Joy eloquently spoke to the benefits of non-violent communication and how to handle articulating one’s belief system in a dominant, ‘carnistic’ culture.
One piece of information that came to me was a t-shirt stating that 96 animal lives would be saved by going vegan for a year. I’m not sure the figure was accurate – when you consider that someone will eat a whole fish for a meal – but the notion that I would otherwise be responsible for almost 100 violent deaths of terror is compelling.
Also interesting were the comparisons between oppression of women and minorities and oppression and animals.
No one can seriously doubt that animals experience pain. Spiritual openings usually lead to an awareness of consciousness in many forms, and to compassion. But translating this into a deeper awareness of how to live ethically and make clear choices is another step.
Interestingly, I recently met another very fine corporate and securities attorney who happens to be a vegan.
As one step, I relinquished my leather wallet for a cruelty-free wallet that is not made from dead animal skin. Maybe that will purify the energy around money.
Another amazing experience was watching a screening of "Vegucated." This is a documentary film that follows three people who, for six weeks, adopt a vegan diet and a whole new way of thinking about food:
Vegucated is a feature-length documentary that follows three meat- and cheese-loving New Yorkers who agree to adopt a vegan diet for six weeks. There’s Brian, the bacon-loving bachelor who eats out all the time, Ellen, the single mom who prefers comedy to cooking, and Tesla, the college student who avoids vegetables and bans beans. They have no idea that so much more than steak is at stake and that the fate of the world may fall on their plates. Lured with true tales of weight lost and health regained, they begin to uncover hidden sides of animal agriculture and soon start to wonder whether solutions offered in films like Food, Inc. go far enough. Before long, they find themselves risking everything to expose an industry they supported just weeks before.
But can their conviction carry them when times get tough? What about on family vacations fraught with skeptical step-dads, carnivorous cousins, and breakfast buffets?
Part sociological experiment, part science class, and part adventure story, Vegucated showcases the rapid and at times comedic evolution of three people who share one journey and ultimately discover their own paths in creating a kinder, cleaner, greener world, one bite at a time.
All I can say is, get the DVD. Hearts move on their own. I am convinced that ideological wars are not won, only fought, and that minds expand to embrace new information only when all the tumblers fall into place.
For me, if I can live a life with a little more compassion, more awareness, and greater understanding of the way these different arenas of knowledge and action intersect, then I will be better positioned to truly make a difference.
Michael H. Cohen
Michael H. Cohen is a thought leader in health care law, pioneering legal strategies and solutions for business law clients in traditional and emerging healthcare. wellness, and lifestyle markets. Mr. Cohen represents a broad range of healthcare providers and entities, including: medical and osteopathic doctors; physician groups and clinical facilities; integrative medicine centers; psychologists, licensed clinical social workers, registered and advanced practice nurses, physician assistants, dentists and other allied health professionals; complementary and alternative medicine practitioners such as chiropractors, acupuncturists, massage therapists, somatic bodyworkers, energy healers, hypnotherapists and medical intuitives, naturopathic physicians and practitioners of homeopathy; life coaches; dietary supplement manufacturers and distributors; cosmetics manufacturers; HCG and weight loss centers; medical device manufacturers; telemedicine and telehealth business; healthcare educational institutions, health insurance organizations, and medical spas; and many other enterprises.
As a corporate and regulatory attorney who has also handled litigation matters, Mr. Cohen represents conscious business leaders in a transformational era. Clients seek Mr. Cohen’s specialized expertise on business structure and entity formation (corporations, partnerships, LLCs); credentialing, licensing, and scope of practice concerns; professional disciplinary matters before state medical, psychology, chiropractic, and other boards); employment contracts and independent contractor agreements; dispute resolution; e-commerce; intellectual property issues; informed consent and malpractice liability issues; HIPAA and confidentiality and privacy issues; Stark, self-referral, anti-kickback, patient brokering, and fee-splitting questions; dietary supplement labeling; medical device approval and other FDA matters; insurance reimbursement and Medicare issues; website disclaimers and review of marketing materials; advice on concierge medicine and retail boutique medicine; telemedicine, telepsychiatry and telehealth; and other legal and regulatory advice in the business law and health law arenas. Mr. Cohen is also highly sought after for special legal counsel by other attorneys and law firms in the areas of complementary/integrative medicine, aesthetic and cosmetic medicine, medical board discipline, medical spa liability, and medical malpractice liability malpractice (negligence) involving CAM practices or telemedicine.
Mr. Cohen graduated from Columbia University (BA), Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley (JD); the Haas School of Management at the University of California, Berkeley (MBA); and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa (MFA). In law school, he served as an editor of the California Law Review. He also attended the Medical Institute for Law Faculty at the Cleveland Clinic. Following law school, he served as judicial clerk for the Honorable Thomas P. Griesa, United States District Judge in the federal Southern District of New York. Mr. Cohen was an associate in the Corporate Department at the Wall Street law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell, focusing on banking, securities law, and mergers & acquisitions. He was on the faculty of several law schools, teaching civil procedure, conflicts of laws, constitutional law, criminal law, health law, and insurance law. He served as Director of Legal Programs at the Center for Alternative Medicine Research and Education (Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center), and then the Harvard Medical School Division for Research and Education in Complementary and Integrative Medical Therapies and Harvard Medical School Osher Institute. He was also Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, with a joint appointment as Assistant Adjunct Professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Harvard School of Public Health. While at Harvard, Mr. Cohen was Principal Investigator on two grants, Legal and Social Barriers to Alternative Therapies (National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health) and Pediatric Use of Complementary Therapies by Parents: Ethical and Policy Choices (Greenwall Foundation), and Co-Investigator on several other funded projects, including Models of Integrative Care in an Academic Health Center. Among his activities, Mr. Cohen pioneered the course, “Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Health Law and Policy” at the Harvard School of Public Health. He also was awarded a Fortieth Anniversary Senior Fellowship at the Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard Divinity School.
Mr. Cohen has published over 100 articles, and books, including: Creative Writing for Lawyers (Citadel Press, 1990); Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Legal Boundaries and Regulatory Perspectives (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998); Beyond Complementary Medicine: Legal and Ethical Perspectives on Health Care and Human Evolution (University of Michigan Press, 2000); Future Medicine: Ethical Dilemmas, Regulatory Challenges, and Therapeutic Pathways to Health and Healing in Human Transformation (University of Michigan Press, 2003); Legal Issues in Integrative Medicine (NAF Press, 2005); and Healing at the Borderland of Medicine and Religion (University of North Carolina Press, 2005).
Following a successful academic career, Mr. Cohen returned to the practice of law. In addition to his professional activities, Mr. Cohen received certification as a Registered Yoga Teacher. Whether advising start-ups or established companies, he brings his entrepreneurial spirit and caring insight to cutting-edge legal and regulatory challenges.
Mr. Cohen is admitted to practice in California, Massachusetts New York, and Washington, D.C. To speak with an experienced business and health care law attorney about your legal concerns, contact our attorneys today.