Each month we post conversations we have with cool people who live mindfully whether it’s living with less or being healthy without doing harm to others. This is not an interview series but more a down-to-earth catchup over a casual cup of tea.
Emma is originally from New Zealand but later moved to Europe where she eventually met Christian (French heritage) and started building their amazing lives together with their dog, Hatchi.
In this conversation they share their insights on making a relationship work despite a rocky start, self-discovery, living compassionately, entrepreneurship and simplicity.
These two are truly selfless and are determined to help create a community of compassionate people and show them that this way of living can be achieved simply.
The proceeds that they receive from their Magazine funds their Sanctuary project. So make sure you subscribe so you can support a great cause.
We can’t wait to spend some time learning the ropes of permaculture and hanging out with animals when we visit the sanctuary in France next time we’re in Europe!
Now, onto the conversation.
How long have you guys been together and how did your journey towards mindfulness start?
Emma: We’ve known each other for about 8 years and our relationship has had a lot of ups and downs in that time. We’ve been married for 5 years and nearly divorced after just 2 years.
We were both very much in ‘the system’. We were both ambitious and earning lots of money in London, but we were extremely unhappy as individuals. Our relationship from the start shouldn’t of worked and a lot of people thought it was going to fail because of how volatile we were together.
We fought a lot but mainly because we were fighting within ourselves. We simply weren’t happy.
Christian: When I was younger I was always with a lot of women. But I had to take a step back and really think about why I was unhappy, sad and depressed.
I realised that I wasn’t looking for a sexual partner, but I was in fact looking for love.
I never met my biological father when I was young and was raised by my step father. I was always seeking love and acceptance from my father who always gave more attention to my brother than me. So in a way I was trying to fill a gap by hooking up with all these women.
These relationships never lasted very long, and it was like I was trying to hurt myself.
Emma: Kind of like self-sabotage.
Christian: When we first met, it was through a colleague at work. At the time I was single. Emma and I were sitting at the table and something just clicked.
Emma: That night we both felt something we hadn’t felt before. I was with someone else at the time so we didn’t get together for about 7 months. But there was definitely something there and it’s that spark that got us through. But in essence we didn’t love ourselves.
When we almost got divorced we took some time apart, and at the time I didn’t realise, but we needed that space to discover how to be at peace with ourselves.
I was doing a lot of research on Buddhism and mindfulness and I came across this saying that said “you more than anyone in the universe, deserve your own love and affection”. When I read that I had tears running down my face as I’d never really actively given myself love. I was actually quite harsh and unloving to myself.
So I learnt about what compassion is and how compassion held everything together in the universe. Once I learned how to be compassionate to myself, I started practicing how to be compassionate to others.
Our dog Hatchi, who we had so much love for, really helped us move towards a vegan lifestyle. We thought, if we can have so much love for our dog, why can’t we extend this love to the rest of the animals?
Christian: In my family, dogs were not considered equal. Humans were the rulers of the world. We used to eat a lot of meat and I used to think that was okay because we’re on top of the food chain.
But when Emma left so we could take some time out for ourselves, Hatchi would constantly come up to me and show affection, almost to say that everything will be alright. That’s when I thought, no this is stupid, of course animals have feelings and compassion and a mind of their own.
So as Emma was researching, I was also taking some time to learn more about compassion and mindfulness. And this self-discovery unlocked so much for us.
So it sounds like you were both making huge personal break throughs at the same time. What did the conversations between the two of you look like during that period?
Emma: We were talking a lot about how we need to love ourselves and having less expectations of the other person to make us happy. One of the biggest problems was that we were both looking to the other person to fill the emotional needs that we were both lacking.
Christian: When Emma left, we were talking on Skype everyday. But when we moved back in together, it was very difficult because there was still a lot of anger between us. So the beginning was a bit tricky.
Emma: But honestly, we believe that we must have signed a soul contract before we came into this life time saying that we will give each other hell in the beginning but we’ll get there in the end.
It was an exciting time and we were learning so much! It was great to have someone to share that all with. It was like we were unlearning everything we knew and were starting fresh.
Our conversations became less superficial and more meaningful.
During this time, Christian’s mother got diagnosed with cancer. So I started to research alternative healing techniques and came across the likes of Gerson therapy as well as juicing and veganism.
So I started to really understand veganism from a health standpoint but was also increasing my awareness of how our dietary choices were doing harm to animals. I loved animals and it didn’t make sense to be cruel to them.
Then I learnt about the environmental impact of animal agriculture and that was the nail in the coffin for me.
When did you guys become vegan? Was it a particular moment or was it a progression?
Emma: It was about 2 years ago. For me it was gradual. I didn’t really like the taste of meat. To become vegan, it takes a big shift in your belief system. And for some people it’s instant, for others it can take a little longer. I couldn’t tell when the exact moment was.
For Christian it took food poisoning for him to make the switch.
Christian: Emma was vegetarian then vegan but I still wanted to eat meat for the wrong reasons. Mainly because I thought that to be a real man I had to eat lots of protein to be big and strong (everyone laughs).
The more I talked to Emma, the more I started to make the connection particularly when I looked at our dog, Hatchi.
But yeah, we had some friends over for a bbq, and I served meat, and I felt really sick the next day – so I gave it up.
I still ate dairy and cheese. We currently live in France and my mum would always send me a 1.5kg block of cheese. This cheese was a big deal in French culture and would mature for 18 months!
So personally it was extremely tough to give up cheese. Being French there was of course the cultural challenges. French people always say, “in my culture we need to eat cheese”.
I watched Gary Yourofsky’s famous speech and after that, I became vegan and I never ate cheese or eggs again.
So you guys made some massive changes to the way you live. You must have experienced a lot of push back from friends and family. How did you deal with that?
Emma: We both didn’t live near our families so that helped!
I wasn’t working in an office at that time and to be honest, we don’t have that many friends. So it’s just us.
But when we have to go out of our little bubble and go see family or old friends, it’s difficult because they expect you to be the same as you were so many years ago.
Of course we went through the stages of grief when you first become vegan. You discover what’s really going on and want to shout it from the rooftops but everyone is running away from you. Then at times you lose faith in humans. But eventually you pick yourself up and live joyfully and in a way that inspires other people.
I was with my family in New Zealand a couple weeks ago and it was like being a new vegan again because my family lives so differently to us. So yes it’s tough.
Christian: I left my hometown in France 15 years ago. And at the time I had “friends” but most of those relationships have fallen off.
But when I look back, it’s clear that I wasn’t a nice person. I wasn’t nice to myself or to others. I was sexist, racist and there were many things that I believed that simply weren’t right. Ever since I was little, I was in a box and everything outside of that box was wrong. I was acting out of fear because I didn’t understand all of these things outside of my box.
Now I see everyone the same. Wait, that’s not completely true, there are a few people from my childhood that I still struggle with. But most people I see as equals which is different to what I used to think.
And now when I talk about equality with others, I can see the same fear come across their faces that I used to have. And they look at me as a threat because they want to stay in their box. It’s scary because I know that I’m a much better and nicer person than I used to be.
I’m not an asshole anymore and they are pushing me away.
Thank you for sharing your personal journey’s towards a compassionate lifestyle. We’d love to know how you transitioned from helping yourselves to helping others through various projects?
Emma: When I started “waking up” I started a blog to capture my experiences. I was blogging for about a year. This process was extremely valuable to us as it helped Christian and I crystallise our thoughts, which led to tangible changes.
We stopped watching TV, in fact we got rid of our TV all together. We started going for more long walks together and having deeper conversations.
My background is journalism and PR and Christian’s background is in advertising and media.
I had been blogging about how everyone should be using their unique talents to do something they are passionate about. Then I thought about our talents and experiences and thought that we should use our skills to start a magazine.
At the time I thought I would get someone to do the design so I could focus on the writing and interviews. Christian would take care of the advertising. But like most projects, you come up against many challenges. With constraint comes creativity. I taught myself design and we were able to get Barefoot Vegan Magazine out into the world.
I always wanted the magazine to be a mixture of spirituality and self-help but to also have veganism at its core. But at a deeper level, to also demonstrate the beauty of community as a way for people to empower themselves and others.
Barefoot Magazine is a self-funded project but plays an integral role in our latest project which is an animal sanctuary in the South West of France.
Luckily Christian had some savings that we were able to draw upon to purchase 14 acres of land. The sanctuary won’t just be a place for animals but for people as well. Whether you’re interested in building eco-friendly houses or sustainable gardening practices there will be a little bit in there for everyone. Most of all it’s about working together and building community.
You both seem to have a strong desire to see change in the world. Was this part of your personality prior to these projects or has this recently changed since your self-discovery?
Emma: I’ve always had it in me but I never let it flourish when I was younger. It’s about creating something and creating something beautiful.
But yes, there’s this deep urge and passion in us. I don’t think we want to necessarily change people, we just want to showcase how beautiful life can be. We want to inspire, really.
And a lot of that is channelled through the sanctuary. We’ve given this a lot of thought and we want to show farmers that you can have a sustainable business without doing harm to animals.
When you hear the phrase less is more, what comes to mind?
Emma: The Barefoot Vegan philosophy comes to mind in terms of valuing experiences instead of things.
We started living a simplistic lifestyle as part of our “waking up”. We stopped doing things like watching TV and instead did things like read books, go for walks or watch documentaries. We started carving out time for more simple and meaningful experiences instead of filling our time with things that didn’t matter.
Christian: Just hearing that is like a big weight off my shoulders. People who value money are very afraid of losing it. But when your priorities are about owning less, you have little to be afraid of.
And if you build a community where everyone is together, then you can’t lose anything because everybody already owns it!
But yes, I believe having and desiring less ultimately leads to more happiness.