Scrape, Pull, Brush

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Day Four

On this morning we decide to do our pranayama and meditation on the beach as the sun rises. It’s chilly so we bundle up, gather towels to sit on and blankets to wrap ourselves in. The tide is making its way in and at this particular location that means there will be no beach on which to sit in less than an hour so we perch on the ridge of the sand dune and wait. The sky is already light and beginning to blush as the sun still hides behind the horizon. The full moon is directly behind us slowly descending against a gradient sky of pastels. Suddenly a man with fishing gear is standing beside us with a huge smile on this face. He says a hearty “good morning” and makes his way down to the water’s edge to set up his poles. Not long after, another happy soul appears and emits a, “Wow! Good morning!” They must not get much company in the wee hours.

Their mood is infectious. We learn later, when we ask one of them to take our photo, that they are here on vacation from Portugal.

The sun rises behind the Florida mountains, rimming the tops of the clouds in a shimmering neon orange. It is full minutes before it seems to move at all. We’ve forgotten pranayama, mostly,  but we do chant a quiet Gayatri Mantra and an attempt is made to do an open eye meditation. But mostly we’re struck silent by the magnificence before us: this trivial thing we take for granted will happen on a daily basis.

Once the spell is broken and the sun too bright to gaze into, we do some random yoga poses. It turns into more of Simon Says play time, with each of us guiding one pose. Then Dr. Jain’s wife, Michelle, who is a yoga teacher and yoga nidra facilitator (among her many talents) asks if we’d like to do some laughter yoga. She’s certified in that as well.

We’re a bit tentative, too refined for such silliness, then she lets out this huge belly laugh totally unexpectedly and we fall apart. It might be my new favorite yoga.

Laughter is indeed the best medicine.

Back at the house we begin to mentally prepare for our personal schedules. My meeting with the doctor is early today and our goal is to discuss my daily routine. (Finally! Over 40 years of journals have been filled with this ridiculous notion of scheduling my day or at least my morning. Mostly it ends up with me needing to get up at 3 A.M. and be done with my whole day somewhere around 11 A.M.) I have some ideas of my own so we’ll see what comes up.

I show up armed with the daily routine for a pitta, some notes from a friend who is in a training for just this – creating healthy habits based on Ayurvedic principles – and the usual suspects I believe I need to complete in the morning in order to feel prepared and productive.

He tosses the pitta routine aside, apparently my secondary dosha, Kapha is what needs addressing at this time, and he scrutinizes my various lists placing check marks, numbers and other notations beside items. Overall his recommendations seem doable and at this moment I am committed and ready to take my time and my life back. Here’s the abbrieviated list:

  • Rise before the sun
  • Tongue scraping – clearing the sleeping muck (or ama – toxins – that collect on the tongue overnight)
  • Oil pulling – a blend of sesame oil with a touch of peppermint oil swished around the mouth, pulled through the teeth and gargled
  • Drink a cup of hot water
  • Pranayama – specific breath work to clean out the cobwebs of the nasal passages and sleepy brain
  • Meditation – maybe 10-20 minutes to start
  • Yoga – whatever I want to do

Beyond that, he has no opinion of the morning routine. I still think I can cram in journaling, reading and writing, which may put me back at 3 AM, but we’ll see. Also not sure where walking or the gym will come in. But I like the beginnings of this, it feels like something I can implement while I’m here and continue once I’m home.

I skip lunch so I don’t react during my treatments. It’s a good plan and I am glad I did. So many things are better on an empty stomach. If only I could remember that more often.

The treatments hold no surprises today. I am able to relax through them. Tomorrow is Big B day. THAT may have some surprises.

Evening session after dinner brought a cooking class with a sidebar of Dr. Jain’s personal story and entry into Ayurveda. It was far more entertaining than the cooking lesson. Like most people who make huge lifestyle changes, he was struck with a personal issue that seemed devastating at the time.

He calls it the first crack in the ego foundation. This crack is  necessary and the impetus for change.

As chief of staff and general surgery at a hospital, at the prime of his life and career, he developed an auto-immune muscle disease. He was told he should take a year sabbatical and rest. There’s a lot in between, but the bottom line is, it led him to Ayurveda and he credits Ayurveda for healing him completely of the disease.

For me, it’s the personal stories that have the most impact and his was profound.

I head up to bed with the sense that I am exactly where I am supposed to be in this moment. I open the window to hear the ocean and try not to think about Big B.

Sunrise, Sunset

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Day Three

I awake with a constant questioning of my existence here. I know this is productive and all good things are coming, but it’s unlike anything I’ve ever done. My feeble mantra every time I’m accosted by a therapist is “thank you, this is good for me”.

Our days begin with pranayama, meditation and yoga. Today we made it through the first two then three of us had the sudden urge to… I know what you’re thinking, but no… go watch the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean. I live here, in Florida, less than hour from the beach but my friends live in LaLaLand and perhaps have not seen a sunrise that was not produced on a green screen. So, we trotted to the shore and took selfies with the rising sun. It was magnificent and awe-inspiring as always and I think to myself, “If I could wake up to this view every morning I’d be a better person.” Maybe.

Today’s treatments are similar to Day one. I can manage this. Even the steam. I really don’t want to be THAT person, you know, the one telling everyone how to do their job better to suit my needs? But I have learned that expressing my concerns gets me either an explanation of why they are trying to melt my skin off or an adjustment to alleviate my concerns, and the heat, sometimes both. I have also learned that I can refuse treatment any time I want. There is some comfort in this I guess, but I think many years ago a tiny little directive snuck up on me, that whispered, “Just go with it, see where it leads.” And so mostly I try to lean into new experiences. But it has been helpful to both lean in and find my edges and my voice.

After treatments, my afternoon stretches out before me. I have three hours before my consultation with the doctor. I have a list of questions and recommendations. This is because I am a pitta I am told; one of the Ayurvedic constitutions known as doshas. All you need to know is that pitta’s know everything, they’re always right, and they have the best ideas.

I contemplate a shower, but we are told leaving the oil on our hair and skin as long as possible is beneficial. I feel like a giant piece of walking fly paper, but I wander around the big house anyway careful not to get too close to things that will adhere themselves to me. I find no one in the kitchen so I grab my laptop to write about not only this experience but a few memoir type chapter starters. One of my hopes coming here was to find the time and desire to write again. Although all the books I’ve read on writing (Is that ridiculous? Reading books on writing?) insist one must not wait for inspiration but instead put oneself in the path of inspiration. This is my attempt.

Time to meet with the doctor. Now, this is no ordinary MD, Dr. Jain was a surgeon in his previous life (well, this lifetime, not his previous incarnation – it can all get dicey with all the Indian and yoga stuff) and a couple of decades ago started studying Ayurveda, so he is now still an MD and an Ayurvedic physician. East meets west. It’s a lovely thing. We chat a little about bodily functions – which is becoming surprisingly comfortable now (sorry, not sorry) – and then we start talking about stress. There has been a bit of stress in my life lately – like every day for 365+ days – so this is the probable cause of most of my issues.

We chat about control and letting go of trying to control what others do and don’t do. We talk about yoga, meditation and deep breathing practices. And we talk a little about food, but mostly it is a counseling session and I immerse myself in what he is telling me. And much of what he is telling me is a reiteration of what some of my closest friends have also suggested. I am now just ready to hear it fully.

It feels like balm to my rattled brain, salve to my struggling soul, someone asking about and listening to my “problems” with concern, compassion and no judgment. This is what medicine should be.

The healing is in the listening.

Buoyed by my counseling session I head to the kitchen to find dinner and company. The topic of conversation: the super blood full moon. Tonight. And we want to watch it rise over the ocean. We are staying right across from the beach so this isn’t a big deal, but there is no direct beach access so we plan to drive ½ a mile up the road to find our dune.

The beach here has been hit hard by hurricanes the past few years. Repairs to the wooden steps leading down to the beach were damaged a couple of years ago, and only about half of them were repaired. Then another hurricane barreled through last fall undoing everything. Right where we are a giant slab of concrete has been upended and looks like it could fall at any moment. A sea wall perhaps? We stay high on the only beach access here, a dune divoted by the passage of many feet.

We sit patiently, maybe a little concerned that we got the time or location wrong. But there were a couple of people already here that seemed to have the same schedule and a few more showed up, so we relaxed and gazed out to sea. There was a bank of clouds on the horizon – Florida mountains, I like to call them – that the moon would have to rise above. Which she did, slowly and elegantly. It was beautiful. We are held still and silent.

There is a call to presence when experiencing nature’s power.

Back to the house for lecture number 4 on Ayurveda. Tonight we chat about prana in food. Prana is the Sanskrit word for life force or energy, as in pranayama – breath control, or literally life force cessation, suspending the breath. All living things contain prana, it is what animates us. When we eat a live plant we are getting prana, when we eat fruit just picked from the tree: prana. When we eat an egg, a steak or drink a glass of milk? No prana. There are still nutrients, protein, fat, etc. in animal products, and we are not discouraged from eating them, but they contain little to no prana. When you start to look at food as energy (and actually many countries use Energy Units rather than calories on their food labels) you may make different choices. I know I will.

As I prepare for bed I have the sweet realization that we began the day with the rising sun and put it to bed with the rising moon. Goodnight moon.

D-Day

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Day Two

We were warned yesterday that today we would all receive something to take – either pills or a liquid – that will cause something they like to call “controlled diarrhea”. Have you stopped reading yet? None of us is excited about this prospect especially when some of us have to take our medicine just before our treatments – the massages and sandings. The pills are tasteless and I am not worried and I swallow them 10 minutes before my massage.

I march up to the treatment room prepared for a repeat of the day before. Today will be gentler I am told. There will be no sanding – actually called udvartana or something sounding like it came out of the fabric lips of the Swedish Chef on Sesame Street, and it’s done with silk gloves, that’s it, no sand paper – and no basti. Just the massage and steam. Oh, and the eye drops and nose dealios. It sounds manageable.

But something happens to me when I lie down. There is an acidic surge from my stomach to my throat, a sourness, that I try to maintain and ignore. Maybe this is how it’s supposed to be? I manage to make my way through the massage on both sides, albeit uncomfortably. As they lowered Steamy Wonder over my slick body, I took a breath and tried to suck it up. But the steam apparently cooked whatever was already brewing inside and I had to cut my session about 10 minutes short. They managed to muddy my eyes with ghee and have me snort some oil, but that was it.

As I sat up, the therapist handed me a glass of water and I could barely swallow the first sip. Not a good sign.

I went to my room to use the bathroom (by now you know what you’ve gotten yourself into) and vomited my entire breakfast. Both bowls of some sort of spiced rice mush with broccoli. Fortunately, the broccoli did not make a second appearance. And actually I felt much better after the purge.

I never throw up. I will do whatever I can not to vomit. Ok, well, there have been a few times when the wine was flowing freely and I may have been over-served, but this elimination was so much cleaner. There was no shaking with cold sweats. There were no promises to any entity with the power to make this go away as I pressed the side of my tortured head to the coolness of the porcelain. It was more of a quick assessment and realization that that just happened and now we’re moving on.

Then there was the other end.

[A note of caution: When you’ve been soaked by a gallon of oil head to toe, take care when taking a seat on a slippery surface like porcelain.]

Again, I’ll spare you the details. Suffice it to say that it was more annoying than anything. I would start to read a sentence or two in a book and be interrupted again by the goings on in my digestive tract. It went on for about two hours. For others it lasted over eight.

Four coconut waters, a couple of naps and an empty stomach later, I arrived back at the dinner table feeling lighter. Mostly.

We’re bonded now, having gone through the same experience. We eat slowly and gaze up from our bowls of food on occasion to smile at one another. Quiet conversations start and fade out. No one asks how the other is doing, we simply assume our presence at the table indicates we have survived.

Tonight’s lecture topic is all about agni, digestive fire. I do not have enough, most of us probably don’t considering the way we eat and our stressful lifestyles. Ways to increase it?

  • Meditation
  • Pranayama
  • Sipping warm (or hot) water all day
  • Eating only warm food
  • Certain spices – these are specific to each individual dosha (constitution)

This doesn’t have to be forever, just until the body is back in balance. But there is so much benefit in continuing ALL of those practices, so why not? Oh, and here’s a revelation for our excessively-minded society:

Only eat when you’re hungry.

Wait, what? But, what about breakfast, the most important meal of the day? And lunch. I have to have lunch when it’s my time to go to lunch. And dinner, of course, that’s when we all get together and talk about our day (or sit in front of the TV mindlessly shoveling food into our waiting, bored mouths). What about 6 small meals a day?

Ayurveda may actually be the originator of intermittent fasting. Two meals a day is really all anyone needs. But we’ll explore all the food stuff later. It’s too good not to share all on its own.

But for now…

Hungry? Eat. Not hungry? Don’t eat.

 

 

Sanded, Slathered and Steamed

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Day One and a Half

It is Sunday and I have been gagging on melted medicated ghee for a week now. This is the day I head to the beach to the wellness center to begin my purge. I am ready. Not ready. I don’t have to be there until 5 PM and it only takes about an hour to get there so I decide to have late lunch before I go, around 3. I stop at Chipotle and choose the barbacoa bowl.

I’m gonna need to fortify with some good beef, I convince myself.

If I were a healthy, balanced person I would have chosen to eat mostly cooked vegetables and maybe a little rice at home, but I am neither, so my constant companion, Habit, takes me to lunch.

The drive is easy and when I arrive I am the last of the six of us who will be sharing the intimacies of our bodily functions and mental neuroses.

Two of my friends are here and they have brought along another friend who I adore immediately. The four of us will spend time together when we are not otherwise engaged.

The center is a big house originally built to be a bed and breakfast. It is on A1A, the main highway that runs along the east coast. We are on the mainland side. There is a row of houses between the road and the beach that prevents us direct access, but does not completely obstruct the view, refreshing scent of sea air or the lullaby of crashing waves. A short walk will take us to public access.

My room is on the second story in the front of the house. Each room is equipped with a queen or king bed, a variety of other furniture pieces and a private bath. That last part is going to be key.

Once settled, I head back down to the kitchen where we gather around the large oval hand-painted table. The theme of the house is American Tuscany, but in case the architectural pieces and iron railings don’t make that clear, there is a giant map of Italy on the kitchen wall.

Conversations are easy but brief, we learn a little about each other, form our opinions and eat the first pot of our healthy food. We have a cook, two I hear, that will be making us a pot of something healthy every day for every meal. All our food will be served warm, it’s part of the healing protocol.

After dinner we head to the living room for our first lecture. We learn about the three body constitutions and their attributes. I am familiar with most of what is being said, but I dutifully take notes in an attempt to remain awake and upright. He, the doctor, seems to realize we’re all a bit distracted and tired so he wraps up and we head up to our respective rooms. My friends from California sit at the kitchen table and chat with a couple from Texas. Their bodies are all still a few time differences behind.

It’s chilly for Florida, but I open the window anyway. I like the fresh air and I want to hear the ocean. I also turn on the ceiling fan, I like air moving. Sleep comes pretty easily and each time I wake I rest back into the rhythm of mother ocean.

A good start.

I wake at 6:00 AM refreshed and ready to start this process.

After pranayama (breath work), meditation and yoga, we head to the kitchen for a breakfast of oatmeal and spiced fruit. The fruit is amazing.

My treatment isn’t scheduled until later so I walk down to the beach to drink in all those healing negative ions. There is no better reset for me.

After my walk, some journaling, a taste of boredom I have become unaccustomed to, and lunch, I head to the treatment room.

I am handed a blue paper sheet and asked to disrobe, sit on the table and cover my intimate parts with the sheet. A delicate knock later, two of the massage therapists approach me to begin treatment with a prayer, each of them holding one of my hands in both of theirs. After a shared om, one moves behind me to gently place her hands on my shoulders and the other places her fingertips on the top of my head and on my third eye. As the one in the front moves to place her warm, oiled hand over my heart, the one behind me does the same in the back. My heart is in their hands. Then I am guided to lay on my belly. This is where it gets good, the warm oil massage.

But wait, apparently I have to be sanded down first like a wooden board to receive stain.

I don’t know what they’re doing or why. But I go with it. I take it. They are moving in tandem, scrubbing up the sides of me, starting at my hip and ending at my ribcage. I am being planed. After I am polished and smooth, they begin the warm oil massage. Only it’s hot. It feels hot. Perhaps it is because I have been tenderized. Again, they are working in tandem. This is abhyanga, a specific massage done by two therapists working together. It is a lymphatic massage to help detoxify the body. Mostly gentle in nature, except for that first part. That was new. I am lulled into submission by their rhythm. Then they begin pressing on certain points in my appendages, marma points I am told and it’s all good, until they hook their thumbs into my airpits and wave at my shoulders. It tickles and it shocked me. I struggle not to giggle. This is serious business after all. This healing stuff.

They shift the cover from my legs up to my back slick and sticky with oil. They will now work on my legs. They separate my feet and tuck the sheet between my legs and I am suddenly struck with the visual of a sumo wrestler. It isn’t pretty.

As I lean into the ebb and flow of the massage again, I exhale and relax.

Time to flip. Now the front. I have become so seduced by the warm oil that I nearly rise off the table when they begin sanding the front of me. They are moving together on my sides again, only this skin feels a bit more tender. And it’s starting to get personal. They begin to do this arching thing from my rib cage up through the middle of “the girls” to my collar bone. Over and over again. When they take a break, I take a breath.

Warm oil on the front. Too hot again, but ultimately soothing. I am complacent once more.

When they are done with the massage, they lower this coffin-like tent over my body. Its name? Steamy Wonder. I soak in steam for a day or two it seems, I don’t like it, but they’ve devised clever ways to distract me. While laying on my back they put a few droppers of warm ghee into my eyes, sauteing my eyeballs with hot butter right in their sockets. Miraculously I can still see afterwards.  Then some sort of medicated oil I am to snort up my nose. It rests in the back of my throat and burns a hole to my spine, I am sure. just as I am about to fling the tent off me and run for the ocean, the facial massage begins. This is divine. I endure the steam as long as they are petting me.

Then the front is essentially done, but now it’s time to flip again, gotta roast the back, which somehow isn’t as uncomfortable. More padding back there perhaps.

Just when I think I am done, they guide me to assume a position to receive a medicated basti (think enema). The process is very brief. Not details. No real discomfort either.

But I do find myself wondering what I have signed up for?

Once I retrieve what’s left of my dignity I am shuffled to a chair in the hallway where I await an additional treatment. Shirodhara. This one I am looking forward to. A warm oil drip in the middle of the forehead for about 30 continuous minutes, followed by a head massage. I let go into that one.

My door is next to this particular treatment room so I don’t have far to stumble. I walk into the bathroom of my room uncertain what I should do with myself now. My hair is thick with oil, my body slick and there’s the possibility that something digestive could be happening at any minute. I am in limbo.

I decide to entertain myself with a book. Later there will be dinner and a short lecture on Ayurveda.

I’m still trying to figure things out, control them, fix them, but there is a softening around the edges, I am quicker to let go of the struggle. Perhaps the day’s events are beginning to do their work.

Impure

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It has been a week since I completed an 8-day detox. This was not a stay-at-home and mix some lemon and apple cider vinegar cleanse type of thing, this was a go to a place get lulled into relaxation by the beautiful surroundings then get beaten up by treatments kinda deal.

I may be a tad bit dramatic here.

What I did is called panchakarma. It is an Ayurvedic detoxification process. Ayurveda is the sister science to yoga – they kind of grew up together – which focuses on food, the physical body and its relationship to nature. Yoga, is the spiritual practice that is its companion.

You may be confused by that last sentence as yoga certainly seems like a physical exercise and in part it is, but that is just one small aspect of the philosophy. But we’ll get into that at another time.

Panchakarma translates to: pancha = five, karma = actions. There are five actions taken to help the body detoxify, but the actual detoxification is three weeks long (or forever). Here are the cliff notes:

Week One: The week before attending panchakarma I met with the doctor. Based on his assessment of my overall health he prescribed medicated ghee (an organic clarified butter with helpful herbs for my constitution), a powder to mix into hot water and drink before meals, and castor oil to drink at night. For 7 days.

Week Two: Go to the location of the panchakarma and receive the five actions, as well as; participate in breath work, meditation and yoga each morning; eat healthy balancing food provided throughout the day; and attend a lecture each evening.

The five actions in brief:

Abhyanga – a two-person lymphatic massage using a gallon of oil. Two people work on opposite sides of the body, in tandem, to help the lymph move through to carry toxins out of the body. There are other add-ons to the body work that I will share as they happen.

Swedana – Steaming out the impurities either through a canvas steamed dome that is lowered over the massage table or a steam box in which one sits with the head out.

Shirodhara – a continuous warm oil drip onto the third eye. You might see god, it’s that divine.

Vamana or Vierechana – Controlled Elimination. Depending on the individual’s constitution and level of impurities, they are administered herbs to either “gently” vomit or have “controlled” diarrhea.

Basti – enema. Do you want the name and number of this magical retreat yet? There are two types: a 2 ounce oleating enema that mostly gets absorbed into the colon, and the 12-ounce bag (think IV size) that is filled with a personalized prescription of oils and herbs. The results of this one are markedly different from the 2-ounce as you’ve likely already surmised.

Rakta Mokshana – Blood letting. Like leeches. We did not do this one. Apparently the FDA has rules about the health of leeches so we missed out.

Ok, I know that’s six and there are also nasya – medicated oil up the nose, and netra tarpin – eye drops. Just know we got the full package, plus some extras, minus the leeches.

Week Three: During week two diet and lifestyle practices have been discussed and then prescribed for home. In addition, some herbs or supplements may be recommended. And in all honesty, this third week is really a suggested way to continue eating and living for the next three months. Or forever. I am doing the vegan thing until May. At least. To the best of my ability. [Please note: chocolate, wine and coffee are all vegan.]

By now you may be wondering, Why? Why would you do this and why are you sharing this masochistic torture with me?

Because the results are amazing.

It is a complete reset. When I showed up at the center’s front door, I was stressed beyond my capacity to deal with it in a healthy manner, instead I was on the fuck it diet – eating whatever I wanted – and drinking way too much wine. I let go of all my helpful practices and even gave up riding my beloved bike, Ruby Blue. I was just too busy being overwhelmed and important to take care of myself. I was on auto-destruct but powering through.

I had to disrupt all my habits.

I had committed to the panchakarma six months before going. A couple of friends from California were going to do it and invited me join, so I say yes. One of my best yesses, I’d say.

The first few days of panchakarma I was still stuck in my head, anxious without an impossible list of tasks to complete, but by mid-week I had relaxed into the rhythm and surrendered to the schedule. I could feel the stress turning to vapor and leaving my body (it left in other ways too, but I don’t want to spoil it), I could feel my mind beginning to clear and my muscles and righteousness beginning to relax.

By the time I left, I had a clarity and focus I have not had in years. My body felt lighter and more open. I could breathe fully and smile easily. My skin was glowing.

Why would I want to give that up? Why would I ever want to go back to the old uptight pressure cooker I was? I wouldn’t. I don’t. I am doing all I can to maintain my peace and continue to heal body and mind.

What will follow the next few days is my day-by-day account of what I went through. It’s written in real time, as I was experiencing it, so it has all the snark that comes along with a sarcastic, stressed, overweight, toxic, middle-aged woman being asked to get naked so her body can be sanded, slathered and sweated for her own good.

Regardless of what that crazy bitch has to say, this clearer, calmer version of her, highly recommends the process and the amazing therapists and doctor of the Mind Body Wellness Center in Flagler Beach, Florida.

 

Biyee, Bee-ach

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There was a time when I would scoff at the notion of a whole year being bad. I would internally roll my eyes and externally offer Pollyanna platitudes on the unlikelihood that a whole year could be bad. “A year is just time,” I’d say as I would tilt my head just so and bat my eyelashes. “Time is neutral.”

That is true. And time, like everything else, is made good, bad or neutral by our perceptions.

My perception is 2017 is crap. There. I said it. Pollyanna is withering in the corner like a forgotten houseplant. However, with a little water and sunshine, she’ll be back. She’s tenacious. She is simply incubating, hibernating. I feel she has big plans.

To review, you may recall I came out guns blazing for the GIANT PURGE. I started the year counting all my things, tossing bags of things away, taking multiple trunk loads of things to charities and selling some other things. I was disgusted with everything I had accumulated and equally proud of my recent ‘stuff’ enlightenment.

Then a phone call at the end of January shifted everything. My mother was found unconscious in her home and had been transported to a hospital. She had had a massive brain bleed from which she could not and would not recover. Her passing was peaceful, but sudden. Her death likely caused by the medication meant to keep her alive. A known side effect.

Death is a known side effect of life, after all.

While trying to manage my grief – that’s a joke by the way, grief has its own agenda – I was also now tasked with managing her service and her stuff. She was on the edge of hoarding. She did not buy useless trinkets and appliances she would not use, but fabrics, yarn, beads, and crafting supplies she had big plans for. She owned hundreds of books (as do I) and had stacks of magazines that doubled as end tables. Baskets full of crystals, motivational and affirmation cards, CDs and sticky notes everywhere.  Now it was all mine. A two-bedroom apartment two hours away full of her stuff and some family memories. And her life.

Was this a cosmic joke? I decide to purge and now I have an additional whole house to deal with?  It wasn’t so funny. I would learn in the 11 months to follow that the Universe has a very wicked sense of irony. But it’s all for my growth, right?

To summarize:

  • A mentally ill cheeto gets sworn in as president and my mother checks out.
  • It is left to me to sort, keep, purge and organize her stuff, her service and my own grief
  • A planned trip to India to take others began with a hotel fire in Delhi. Like the hotel I was in.
  • Larry (the hubs) begins suffering from serious insomnia. It gets much worse.
  • Bills for my mother are still pouring in. I don’t have to pay them. I can ignore them. Only I can’t. There seems to be some sort of urgency to them.
  • There are countless doctor’s appointments, reiki and acupuncture for Larry that I have to schedule and drive him to because he is tired and dizzy. Nothing seems to be working.
  • My anniversary is forgotten. And I angrily don’t care.
  • He’s out of work. Short-term disability. A planned trip to Europe is looking threatened in the face of his malaise. I assemble a team of helpers and decide to leave. I need to leave. I have not had any space to myself for months and I’m at a breaking point.
  • While in Berlin we hear news of a little disturbance in the Atlantic named Irma. Shit. I did not return until two days after she marched across my state. There was quite a bit of physical and mental clean-up to contend with. I felt I had to make amends for not being there.
  • Anxiety is a new side effect of the insomnia. More doctor’s appointments, less sleep.
  • Thanksgiving is at risk, the holidays are becoming more stressful.
  • Christmas parties become the impetus for arguments and ramped up anxiety, decorations are delayed and the Christmas Spirit is hiding somewhere in the attic. I have gained 15 pounds in the last four months.

Instead of releasing all my stuff to create more space, both physical and mental, I was given more. More actual things to go through, more situations to navigate, more challenges.

Be careful what you wish for.

But here’s the thing: there is always beauty and magic. One year can be defining, it can be difficult. One incident in the year cannot define it. The beating down every time I got back up, the ground shifting underneath me as soon as I felt stable – that can define a year. But more importantly it can define me.

Growth is messy and hard. It sucks. Can I just say that? I’m in the business of growth and self-development and it sucks. And it’s necessary. And it’s beautiful.

Here’s the other side:

  • I am reminded of my abundance by the things I have in my home. I am grateful for all of it even as I release it.
  • The loss of my mother brings with it the love and appreciation of so many whose lives were touched by her. I am able to be with her things and in her home and to take as long as I need thanks to an understanding landlord on her end and amazing business partners and friends on mine.
  • I get to go back to my spiritual home with my friend Karin, and actually take new people to share it. I meet a Vedic astrologer named Mustang Jack who told me what I already knew but was afraid to embrace. I get to see my Indian friends and be soothed by the rush of the healing waters of the Ganges.
  • After India my journey continued with Karin to Spain where we drank delicious wine, watched flamenco dancers and took trains to amazing places.
  • A little overnight trip for my birthday took the hubs and I to a remote island with white sandy beaches where we sat silently together to witness a stunning sunset.
  • The insomnia and whatever else was going on created space and opportunity for real, honest and meaningful conversations between Larry and I.
  • I boarded a plane to Switzerland alone and spent three glorious, healing days finding my own way through two cities and wandering along riverbanks before joining a friend.
  • My friend Sarah met me in Zurich and we traveled to Berlin, Prague, Salzburg and Munich taking in the culture, architecture and food. I got to see the Fred and Ginger building live and in person!
  • My brother booked a flight to come for Christmas.
  • People are coming out of the woodwork that have suffered through insomnia or anxiety or both to offer support and advice to Larry. He’s not alone.
  • Friendsgiving. Amazing food, awesome friends, laughter and intimate conversations under warm low light
  • My brother, niece and son were all here for the holidays. We drank a lot, ate a lot and played reindeer games.

All in all it was just a year. The waves were higher, the water more turbulent. But stormy skies make way for the best sunsets. I learned more about myself through these challenges and some of it was not pretty. At all. But I believe I did purge. I was able to peel away some of the layers of pretense and armor.

I didn’t often ask for help, mostly space, but everyone I considered a friend offered so much support and love and even those I didn’t know that well became little lights in the darkness through their kindnesses.

It was just a year. It’s all perspective.

As I write this on January 1, 2018, it is raining, cold and windy. That feels somehow appropriate. Cleansing. Preparing for the journey ahead that will be this year.

 

Just Learn the Important Words

  
Rain has been my constant companion so far in the tiny powerhouse that is Switzerland. This morning I had planned to rise early, get myself together, stop for some coffee and get to the train station for my full day in Luzern or Lucerne, as it is translated. Why does it have to be translated? Anyway, I did all that, just much later.

Let me begin by saying I slept an unprecedented 10 hours – interrupted marginally, but miraculous nonetheless. My queen sized bed is just this side of sleeping on the floor and the pillows are foam, leaden with age. No problem. The secret cocktail? Exhaustion + dry red medicine + open window with rain pounding the ground and cool air caressing my forehead. Even after ten hours it was difficult to get going. But I did. It probably helped that there was no coffee here. Motivation. 

I began making friends at the train station. “Excuse me but how do I get a ticket to the flughafen?” It took a little finesse but the 30 something man with round glasses and a waxed bag holding a pastry just procured at the well-placed gluten kiosk behind me, got me straightened out just in time for his train. Confident that I knew where I was going I found the secret passageway to the other track, just to be informed by a nice Swiss lady who works for the transit system that I should indeed go back where I came from. Meaning the other track of course. 

Finally in my seat, I still had the airport train station to master. Here a billette operator escorted me to a kiosk where he encouraged me, like a young child learning times tables, through selecting and purchasing my own ticket to the beautiful little lake town of Luzern. 

 New friends are everywhere. 

On the train I chose to perch myself on the upper level for a better view. About the third of five stops in a woman in her sixties or older hawked up a few words of something that sounded German and ended with a question mark. I nodded and smiled politely not entirely certain what I was agreeing to but it seemed the seat across from me was her request. We stared out the window in polite silence until I asked her if she spoke English. We’re now best friends. Not really but we did have a lovely conversation. 

Her parents lived in Arizona for a while but she was born in Luzern and lives there now. It’s beautiful, she says, except now the Chinese are moving in and people from India. Wait, what? They come in big groups apparently and if they like it they let everyone they know, know. 

Redirect.

“I just love the water and all the photos I’ve seen are beautiful.” She took the cue and pointed out a small town just before Luzern that has a lovely long lake that people walk around, and in the summer there are ‘rowing races’. 

“Do you like your American president?” This is the starter gun shot to a little game I like to call “defending your passport” that I don’t much like playing. In all honesty I’d much rather hear her thoughts so I play it semi-safe by saying, “the US is pretty divided right now.” That’s enough of an opening for her to walk through with both barrels loaded. And it doesn’t stop with him, apparently the leader of Switzerland is no good either, and there are others. She mercifully wraps it up with, “the good people just don’t run for office.” A universal truth perhaps.

It’s our stop. She tells me she will show me where to start my self-guided walking tour. She takes me to the large arches that welcome travelers to both the train station and the city, and points diagonally left. Thank you, says I, have a nice time, says she and we part.

Once alone, I am pulled by architecture, water, green hills rising from the lake and disappearing into the clouds. Swans swim nearby and people are plentiful but it’s not yet crowded. Rain is helpful that way. I wander aimlessly. Truly. I pass stores and restaurants, somehow end up in a mostly modern office building hive. I meander past a huge church where I am stopped by a British Indian family seeking directions. My mutt ancestry allows me to take on the persona of any cold weather European. I am surprisingly able to help them find their way to the train station. Onward I go. I notice the other side of the river (that is actually the lake) has intriguing buildings high in the hills dotted with what appear chimneys but are really low hanging clouds, and I wonder how I might get there. Try as I might I can’t seem to crack the code. I walk up what feels like hundreds of time worn, uneven stone steps, follow narrow alleyways and well-trod paths only to end up walking down a hill back to the water. Whatever mysteries are hidden in the turreted buildings on the hill will have to remain that way for now. 

I’m hungry. I mean really hungry and I have to pee. Time to find some lunch. There are many restaurants along the banks of the lake and their prices reflect their location. And some of the offerings frighten me. I may be able to muster courage for many things, but foodie I am not. I find the perfect restaurant in a hotel but they are closed until six. It’s three. I will not succumb to American fast food. Instead I pay way too much to eat Italian food on the Swiss riviera. I did sample some dry red Swiss wine though, so I’m not a total food loser. 

I’m done. It’s time to meander back to Zurich. The rain has picked up and I’m wet. 

I find my train. This is getting easier. I don’t have to know all the words, just the important ones. This train does not go all the way back to the airport, it goes to Zurich’s version of grand central. That was a fun segue. Art, fancy shops, grocery stores, thousands of fresh off work for the weekend folks and lots of soldiers in fatigues. It took everything I could  NOT to ask them if they were carrying knives. Get it? Swiss. Army. Knives. 

Anyway.

The rest of the rail hopping is a confusing blur of misreads, double-checks and finally landing at the right station. Which, it turns out is a lot closer if I don’t swing by Starbucks first. 

Oh, did I mention self check-out at the grocery store? In the big scary train station? In Switzerland? For some reason I thought, well I didn’t think, I just operated on a time crunch and instinct. I mean a barcode is a barcode in any language right? You’d think. There was an English language option so I chose it to pay for my coconut water and chocolate (balance, don’t judge). Everything was going just fine until it got to the end. I inserted my credit card, agreed to the amount and the conversion and probably sneaky conversion fees. Then I was met with a split screen. On the left side of the screen some important question or action appeared in Swiss in red with another button resembling “no” in red beneath it. On the right, a giant green exclamation point with a button that I assumed said “yes” beneath it. No matter how many times I hammered the EN button, the Swiss or German refused to budge. I switched to French. I could decipher the word receipt on the left which gave me confidence to press oui on the right. A receipt was spat out and I was on my way.

Wonder where I will be led tomorrow? Feeling a boat trip and an embarrassing run through the Lindt chocolate factory outlet store maybe in order. 

I repeat: Lindt. Chocolate. Factory. Outlet.

Lone Wanderer

  
Today after a 12 hour journey or so I landed in the gray and rainy Swiss metropolis of Zurich.  During those long hours on a couple of flights I somehow relaxed enough for all the stress I had been so valiantly suppressing to  gush forward in the form of a perpetually running faucet of a nose. No matter.
Upon arriving at the airport I was to find my way to the Stadelhofen train station. Ok, was my response, I’ll figure it out. And I did. I have come to learn that the bonus side of my sometimes troublesome curiosity is awareness.

I. Notice. Everything. 

I dutifully followed signs to train/bahn, then found the info lady and finally the ticket man. I guessed at the right track 4, asked a woman who only spoke Portuguese a question she did not understand, therefor couldn’t answer about the train currently idling on the track and took my chances hopping through the open door, while swiping at my nose. I confirmed with a suspected heroin addict that this particular train went in the direction I intended and took a seat. 

Four stops later I was spat out into the wet, cool air. My Airbnb host was there awaiting me and even took my bag. A carry-on only if I may boast. For two weeks. We walked a few blocks, took an elevator better suited for one small child with a chihuahua to the fourth floor and entered the apartment.

Spacious, comfortable, on a park and a fraction of even the least expensive hostel. Switzerland is pricey. He showed me around then left. 

I arranged a few things, poked around the kitchen then fell into bed with the windows open and the rain pounding away outside. An hour later I was refreshed enough to cross the street to the grocery store. I wanted to explore more but the rain and this annoying sieve of a nose caused me to pump the brakes. For an hour or so. 

As I was getting ready to leave again, I heard the familiar sound of pedals striking strings. Piano music was seeping through the walls giving me that delicious feeling of being part of something. Life was happening here. Cities have always been my comfort zone, I like the idea of knowing there are stories happening all around me simultaneously and maybe even intertwined. We are all connected after all.

As I made my way down the wide concrete stairs that belonged more to a 1930’s office building than a 5 story apartment building, I noticed other bits of stories. The occupant directly below me had two umbrellas leaning again the wall next to their door, a little further down one occupant had placed a big lace heart on their door and finally at the bottom, a chiropractic office.

Outside more than a dozen bikes sat in a row unlocked and unconcerned. The park was glistening bright green and a mother stood by while her child rode a hobby horse even in the rain.

I wandered to Starbucks. I know, but it’s a little bit of grounding that feels like a permission slip to explore freely. After that I took any side street that interested me with the intention of making my way to the water. I watched the good citizens of Zurich for traffic and street crossing clues, wished I had an umbrella and took note of stores and restaurants to explore later. 

The waterfront was beautiful and mystical shrouded in low hanging clouds. Solitary joggers and residents on bikes passed me by on the walkway arcaded with these magical trees. Occasionally a pair of friends would stroll by peeking outfrom under  their umbrellas to be sure the other understood the point they were trying to make.

There was a bridge in the near distance that was pulling me but I had to resist. I had to get into dry clothes and blow my nose. I had to check my powers of observation and recall to see if I could find my way back without soaking my phone to check Google maps. I did. No problem. Even managed to duck into a different grocery store for a medicinal bottle of wine.

Day 1 in the books. Tomorrow promises the same weather but I think I may find my way to Lake Lucerne. Back to the train platform to the train station to navigate farther south then hoof it around the sweet lake town. But we’ll see.

Accountability

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There is a little life-mastery, business boosting, book my brother loves: Living Forward. He has talked about it, done the process and talked about that and encouraged me to do the same as well as download the podcasts of its authors. I have done none of that.

After finishing the book Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (I seem to always need to be reading some sort of non-fiction, motivational type book) I cast about my home of many bookcases for the next inspiring tome. I have been reading The Body Keeps the Score in small disconnected doses, but that one has a heaviness to it that is more informative than inspiring so something a little lighter, a little shorter that will make me do something would be perfect.

Enter Living Forward. I read it aloud to my husband. He had been going through a bout of “wooziness” characterized by vertigo and mild nausea, so reading was out for him for now. This also made him my captive.

Let’s take the high road and say the book bears an eerie likeness to What Matters Most, the leadership program by Franklin Covey. An homage let’s say. But, the information was very useful and it was time for me to revisit it, so I took to it earnestly.

I will not spoil it for you here, but I will share that the process begins with writing your own eulogy – a possibly creepy, but very telling activity. How do you want to be remembered? It makes me think of the quote that’s often attributed to Buddha,

“Who you are now is a result of what you have done, who you will become will be the result of what you do now.”

Or something like that. This exercise, if thoughtfully done, can help guide your future, transform your present, or at the very least shine a light on all the awesomeness you already are.

From there, life accounts are created and within each one of those are purpose statements, reality and commitments. It’s all very motivating. They key to the whole enchilada is returning to it daily.

Reading. It. Every. Day.

This too is helpful, if sometimes a bit of a slog. It puts all your thoughts and promises to yourself in front of your face on the regular. You can catch bad behavior, change harmful habits and feel a moment of guilt that can help turn the ship around and move in the healthy direction you had intended.

Mostly it works. There are still some bugs in my programming, but with the daily read I am getting over myself quite efficiently. I’ll be making good on those gym and meditation promises any day now.

Diet Roulette

Ayurveda

I’m doing it again. The food thing. Changing it up. If you’ve lost track, as I have, let me recount the past few food philosophies I have adopted and what I’ve learned and why I’m switching again.

There was the juice cleanse. The intention was to drink nothing but freshly pressed green juices, mostly my own, for 3-5 days. Eat a little whole fruit in there, perhaps some all-vegetable salads with only cold pressed olive oil drizzled. It went pretty well, but really 3 days of that is not enough to reveal any great insights, and I got so bored. So, I moved on.

I was feeling an unreasonable amount of stuffiness and congestion so I investigated the low-histamine trend. It’s the newest shiny thing in the food world. It’s difficult, but I did it religiously for about three weeks then slowly incorporated higher histamine foods back in. I mean, no avocado? Come on! Plus, I was reading conflicting articles, apparently it’s a very personal thing, this histamine. I did however find relief from the congestion and I stopped my morning ritual of three sneezes upon rising, so a win, I would say. But not sustainable and not intended to be.

That brings us to Whole30. That blog was a few days ago. The Cliff Notes version: It was good and pretty easy for me.

But still, there was this nagging in my mind or gut or somewhere demanding attention that told me I had not quite figured it out.

Circumstances being what they were I was heading to Flagler Beach to take my love to an Ayurvedic Physician. There was a consultation, then the recommendation that he return for four days to do a cleanse for four hours each day. This involved a specific kind of lymphatic massage, a sweat box, a forehead oil drip and something I promised not to mention. Let’s just say, it was a big part of the ‘cleanse’. Back and forth each day. That’s about an hour and a half each way. But it’s the beach, so. Plus, I personally know and love the doctor here. He spent his first lifetime as a general surgeon, then shifted a little more than 10 years ago to Ayurveda.

A quick primer: Ayurveda literally translates to Science of Life, it is the sister science to yoga. Where yoga is mostly a spiritual path, Ayurveda deals with the physical health of the body as it relates to diet, the seasons and the rhythms of the earth. Together they are a comprehensive approach to health. Everything prescribed in Ayurveda is dependent upon your dosha – your body’s constitution. This can be determined by a quick pulse diagnosis by someone who knows what they’re looking for. Often our constitutions are out of balance and some tweaking with food, exercise, lifestyle choices, treatments like massage, activities like yoga and herbs, will help straighten everything out. Other times call for a detox to remove stubborn waste called ama.

As I mentioned in the Whole 30 blog, body intuition goes a long way to recognizing an imbalance, but it is often useful to get another opinion. I also mentioned how it would be so great to be a vegetarian. (That right there is a little thing we call foreshadowing.)

Well, while I was waiting in this spectacular giant home on the water with a pool at my disposal, I decided to schedule a consultation for myself. Turns out, according to Ayurveda, a vegan diet is what is best for me right now. Vegan. No eggs, no dairy, no meat. Kind of the opposite of Whole 30, but I’m game. My first question was, “Forever?”

One year, with check-ins every three months. I’m down. And kind of excited. From past experimental experiences, I can tell you that a vegetarian diet for a month or more always left me feeling clearer and lighter, but I was invariably pulled back to the other side by my habits. The every-three-month thing will probably hold me accountable. Plus, I can have dark chocolate, coffee and wine on occasion. Win.

There is still “no list” food in my home and I am awaiting some herbs, so I plan to use the next couple days to transition and start with full attention on Sunday. In the margins of my life I am also completing a Life Plan as directed by the motivational book Living Forward, which happens to have as one of its “life accounts” Health. This will be completed on Saturday so the stars seem to be aligning.

I’m such an over-achiever wannabe.