Process not Perfection

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Is done really better than perfect? Maybe in marketing or bed-making, but perfect sounds like a good idea when engaging in say, heart surgery or packing a parachute. Habits, though? Where do they fit in? I’m siding with done. To any degree.

I’m two weeks into my made up Three for Three system. I’m counting the “dones” because there is no perfect here. This is life. It’s more about mastery than perfection. And it’s all 100% subjective.

There is a quote from Swami Kripalu that I have always marveled at and I’m on a constant quest to embed it into every judgmental cell of my being: “Self-observation without judgment is the highest form of spiritual practice.” And how.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Eliminating things is way easier than adding in new practices. At least the things I chose to let go of. It took absolutely no effort to deny alcohol. I mean aside from thinking somewhere on the periphery while preparing dinner that first night how lovely a glass of wine would be while chopping veggies, there has really been no thought of wine or alcohol of any kind.

While I was making my list of positive changes I wanted to adopt this year, there were other food items that I wanted to eliminate or greatly reduce: meat, dairy, gluten and sugar. I secretly bundled two of those into the curriculum of month one of “Project Me” and, like their buddy alcohol, they have not been missed. No meat or gluten for 14 days. Check.

BUT, if I do have meat and/or gluten, I have already given myself permission to let it go and not be judgmental. Alcohol is the focus. That was the one thing I promised myself.

I also want to clarify the reason I am doing this. To myself as much as anyone. I have identified those 5 foods as working against me. Or perhaps it is my affinity for them that becomes detrimental. Alcohol invites me to stay up too late and cozy up to lethargy. Meat has become more of a compassion issue over the years, but I also know too much of it too often promotes prolonged couch sitting. Gluten is glue to my digestive system. Nuff said. Dairy is inflammatory to everyone and I am everyone. Sugar is my best friend. I love sugar. I have let her go before and plan to move to another state to avoid her enticements if I have to to say bye-bye again. But not yet.

I always have these five frenemies in the back of my mind. I am hyper aware of each teaspoon of sugar that goes into my coffee and of how much butter I am using on my gluten-free toast. I have let go of cheese for the most part and don’t miss it. But just knowing this is the direction in which I’d like to go, keeps me from overindulging and seems to be working in my favor.

Plus, I have made no promises to let go of any of these things forever. Or maybe I will. But there is no pressure to label myself anything or any pride involved in being something-free. In fact, I would like to be the type of person that becomes so attuned to the needs of their own body that they eat and nourish it with exactly what and how much it requires.

Can you imagine? Not succumbing to peer pressure, advertising or non-supportive habits? Sounds kinda magical.

The side effect of eliminating all of these things, slowly and mindfully, is to create space and clarity. Clean energy to be used for higher pursuits. Give myself and my body the best opportunity to digest and thrive, thereby clearing my mind and sparking the moldering embers of creativity. To give myself every opportunity to be shiny.

Weight loss could also be a side benefit, but it’s not the driver. I haven’t weighed myself at all. I know I need to lighten up, lose weight and reduce inflammation and I believe that will happen naturally. I want to be my ideal size, but I’ve actually grown quite fond of my curves and thickness over the years. I like being huggable and grounded. But, if the universe decides my best body mass is 120 pounds I’m down with that too. I’ll adjust.

Now, for the moment of truth: The adding in of helpful habits. (Big sign, eye roll.)

The morning practice and daily writing? More difficult. For me it’s about structure and time. If I get up early enough these things will flow with much less effort. (That’s my belief.) The holidays and company have given me many convenient excuses not to do this. But honestly, even when I get up at 5:00 AM I manage to somehow fill the time with other things.

But I’m not giving up. Quitting would not serve me. These two practices are still tugging at me.

Let’s start with the morning practice. In my mind it was to be about an hour and include meditation, breath work and yoga. In reality, on my best days, it turned into 15 minutes of all of that. However, I am reading the book Atomic Habits by James Clear and one of the methods to skillfully adopt a habit is to commit 2 minutes to it daily. In the case of my little routine that would look like sitting on my mat for 2 minutes. Maybe eyes closed and breathing. Maybe looking around my backyard. The habit is rolling out my mat and sitting down however I spend that time is irrelevant. In theory this mat sitting will evolve into the hour I had envisioned. Maybe two minutes at a time. Better than avoidance.

The writing has had a higher success rate. I have wondered more than once why I chose writing. I love to write. I hate to write. I love to think about writing and to have written, but the process sometimes feels arduous and the words won’t flow and who wants to read this drivel anyway when I’m bored with my own sentences. But bad writing is still writing. Good and better writing comes with consistency. And lots pages of bad writing. I have been able to meet my goal of 1000 words per day about 65% of the time.

As I consider my choices, and that voice of lethargy disguised as common sense that tries to talk me into other distractions, I am also fortifying my decisions by reading about habits, by reading about food, by writing about what I’m reading about. I believe that is called studying. And I do not have a specific goal in mind for any of it. No weight loss or book deal, no financial gain or gold stars.

The process is the struggle and the reward. To let it go is to fail. To skip days, fight against it and whine, but still do something, anything? That’s progress. Process not perfection.

 

Homeward Bound

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Day Seven, Last Day.

We choose to end our time here on the beach as the sun rises again. I am convinced there is no better way to start the day. We are all together, including the therapists. It feels like a special group. We’re told we were a low maintenance group and we hear, “You are our favorite group.” There is an ease among us now. We have been through a transformation together and it has bonded us. At least while we’re still in one place. Once we get in our cars and onto our planes and back into our lives, who knows.

Of the Fourteen people involved in this whole process from the therapists and cooks to the doctor and the participants I knew five coming in. And I’ll continue to stay in touch with them. But this whole experience is unique because we each had such inward experiences. We were tiny little islands of processes. Our take-away and evolution, or involution, were extremely personal. While we shared the same big house and amazing therapists and helpers, our transformations were ours alone.

We came together in this experience in much the same way we get to know our neighbors right after a hurricane or other natural calamity and vow – at least privately – that we’ll all become best friends and this will become THAT neighborhood where everyone knows everyone else. But it’s not sustainable. I’m not sad or wistful about this, just observing it.

People come into and leave our lives all the time. It’s by design.

Today, I meet with Dr. Jain for the last official time. The news is all positive. My agni is up, my ama is down, but there’s still a ways to go. My Pitta/Kapha constitution has been restored but my Vata is still elevated, but not nearly to the degree it was, there are still some stress management practices I will need to continue.

Oh, and, I should be a vegan.

He actually told me this back in August when I brought my husband here for some mini-panchakarma. I nodded and said okay and committed for about 45 minutes. I didn’t totally agree with him. Here’s why:

About 12 years ago I got fed up with food being the enemy and decided to make it my friend by learning as much as I could about it. I found an amazing program in NYC called the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. It continues to be one of the most profound and life-enhancing experiences I’ve ever had. During the study of  my own self with regards to food I came to the now-educated conclusion that the Blood Type diet held the most positive answers for me. I was also quite taken with the whole concept of Ayurveda, so as a newly minted Certified Holistic Health Coach I used those two philosophies together to heal my own food issues as well as the digestive, weight and stress concerns of others.

All of this to say, my blood type tells me that I should basically eat beef and broccoli. And when I do eat mostly paleo my weight normalizes, my energy is sustained and I feel good. But it’s been a long time since I held to a strict diet of any kind.

So I do what I should have done in August, and ask him why.

Does it have something to do with agni? Does eating meat put the fire out per se? I mean, I’m open to try almost anything that will boost my energy and make me feel shiny again.

“No,” said he, “eating meat has nothing to do with agni. You do not have enough agni right now to digest meat.”

Of course! That makes total sense.

In truth, if I thought I could be a healthy vegan I would completely embrace it. I don’t like the smell of cooking meat. I don’t like touching raw meat. I do love a beautifully seasoned filet made by a Cordon Bleu chef. But I am committed to my own health. I have promised myself, and Dr. Jain, that I will do the vegan thing for three months. My hope is to be balanced enough to add eggs back in. That’s all, I don’t need meat. Maybe a few times of year. Some happy grass-fed, free range animal protein. Or not.

If I had one recommendation about all this food misinformation and conflicting theories – for anyone who is looking for one – that came out of all this experience it would be this: find a way to cleanse so that you can begin to understand the language of your body again. Learn to listen to its needs, not the desires of your tired, worn out ego looking for a sugar bump. Reset in some way and listen.

Really listen.

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Our amazing healers: Casey, Roslyn, Jenny (therapists), Dr. Jain and Michele Jain.

The Second Brain

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Day Six

Mornings have become routine. I am making good on my promise to myself to do the tongue/oil/brush dance. This morning I woke up a bit earlier so I just got up and took care of all these things and added in a little journaling.

I love my time alone in the dark, still morning hours.

It has taken this long for some people to come out of their shells – a natural byproduct of releasing mental, emotional and physical gunk (the technical term) – and as such we are all talking over each other and interrupting. We are all pittas so everything we have to say is important. Perhaps this would be a good time to explain the constitutions or doshas as they’re known in Sanskrit, briefly as I can.

Firstly, you are born with your constitution which is some combination of the three doshas. Like your blood type, it will not change in your lifetime, so it’s important to embrace it. Secondly, since we all have some mix of all three any one, or all of them, can become frightfully out of balance. Next, doing something intense like this detox or something as simple as changing your diet can greatly help bring the doshas back into balance.

Here is a bit about each:

Pitta: Fire and water elements. Pittas have a medium frame and are well-proportioned. Because one of the elements that defines them is fire, they tend to overheat easily and can anger quickly if they are out of balance. They are often Type A personalities that thrive on accomplishing tasks. Highly organized and focused they are able to power through most things (but that doesn’t mean they should). That determination can also take a turn when they are out of balance creating workaholics who may create problems that don’t exist just so they have something to fix. They love to fix problems. They get hangry easily. Their heat can manifest as skin rashes, digestive issues and irritability. It’s best for pittas to stay away from heating foods and spices and partake in more gentle exercises than they are likely drawn to.

Vata: Defined by the air element and all that entails – airy, spacey, flighty, dry but also highly creative, quick thinking and sharp. Their body types tend to be thin with delicate bone structures. When they are out of balance they can worry unnecessarily, become nervous or suffer from sleeplessness. In balance they usually tend toward the arts. Physiologically they are defined by the nervous system.

Kapha: Earth and water elements. Kaphas generally have larger body types and bigger bones. They can gain weight easily but are not necessarily overweight. They can be very powerful athletes better at endurance sports than short sprints. When they are in balance everyone wants to be around them, especially Vatas, they can be a very grounding presence. Out of balance they can become lethargic and depressed. They can be difficult to get moving, but once they are they tend to stick with a program that is fun.

There are thousands of years of information on these and if they interest you, I’ve noted a few resources at the end of this post. You can also find a dosha questionnaire online to help you determine your constitution, but please note, these tests are subjective so your mood, belief systems and even the current temperature can skew your results. The only definitive way I know of to get an accurate answer is to have an Ayurvedic Practitioner or Physician do a pulse diagnosis. If they have been practicing for a while, they can also likely tell you what your imbalances are and offer recommendations on how to treat them.

I am a pitta/kapha. My primary dosha is pitta with kapha running a close second. Vata for me is very low. IF I’m balanced. When I arrived here my pitta was slightly elevated (anger/stress), my kapha was higher than it should be (toxins/lethargy) and my Vata was off the charts high (stress, stress and more stress and more specifically, the inability or desire to manage it effectively). My job during this week has been to lower all three back into balance, specifically by increasing my agni – digestive fire – by eating vegan, doing pranayama, meditation, yoga and the treatments AND reducing my ama – toxins – also by the same means. I’ll be assessed my last day here to see how my body and mind have responded to the treatments and changes in diet and daily routine.

My treatments are early once again today so I take just a tiny bit of baked fruit. This may be my favorite find this trip so far. Seriously. Anyway, the treatments are going well. All of them and I feel lighter and lighter, both physically, for obvious reasons, and mentally and emotionally. The reason for this is the gut-brain connection.

Just before coming here, I watched an 8-part docuseries on how nutrition affects the brain, and it was mesmerizing. The gut is known as the second brain; your entire immune system resides in your gut. What you eat has a profound impact on your mental clarity and emotional stability. And most of what we eat in this country is Frankenfood; processed, packaged and lacking any prana and little nutrition. Stay tuned for a future rant on that subject!

Our last night here becomes a time of reflection. Not in the sweet, sappy way but in the recounting of where we started and how easy it is to not even recognize what a mess we were while we were in the middle of it. How we lose our footing and balance and that becomes the norm. We become so accustomed to our habits and lulled into repeating bad choices because we are so stuffed with impurities. As we take a step back from this renewed perspective, we marvel at our ability to stand and think before being purged, pummeled and pampered. We vow to not let ourselves get “there” again.

One last lecture. We devolve. We become silly, there has been an incredible release of … pick something, anything, someone has let that go and so we are feeling the lightness of being that is our birthright. We quiet a bit, learn a few more things, but at this point how we are feeling trumps any sort of knowledge we could take in.

We embody a gentle euphoria, an understanding that life does not have to be suffered – that is always a choice. Suffering is always optional. Pain is a given, how you are with the pain determines your state of health.

In Ayurveda, there is a word for optimal health. It has nothing to do with what size or age you are, it doesn’t take into consideration your DNA or food allergies. That word is:

SWASTHYA = Established in the Self.

If you know your Self – that part of you connected to consciousness or your source – you are healthy.

Refreshing.

 

Resources:

A Nice Cup of Hot Water

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Day Five

Today is Big B Day. Basti – you remember, enema. (I just want you to know I typed that last word  s u p e r   s l o w l y  with my face all scrunched up.)

I decide to start my day right, with the routine Dr. Jain recommended.

  • Tongue scraping
  • Oil pulling
  • Teeth brushing
  • Hot water drinking
  • Pranayama
  • Meditation
  • Yoga

Let’s unpack a few of these a little more, shall we?

I briefly explained tongue scraping and oil pulling in yesterday’s blog and I trust you understand teeth brushing, but maybe you don’t see the appeal of “a nice cup of hot water”. Honestly I don’t either, or didn’t, but it’s not so bad.

Hot water with lemon was grandma’s old remedy to get things going in the morning. That’s still its purpose. Hot water stokes the digestive fires or maybe wakes them up. Mostly one cup will do, but if you’ve cheesed it up the night before or went to bed with a hamburger, maybe add a second cup. The idea is to drink the hot water until you eliminate.

Drinking hot water throughout the day keeps the plumbing happy. Dr. Jain recommends lime instead of lemon, and just a little bit, if you’d like to flavor your water. I wish I could remember why, I know asked him no less than 20 times. But a little of either would be fine.

Pranayama, our next step in this process, is a fancy Sanskrit word for breath work. Here, we are doing three different kinds.

Bastrika or breath of fire – forcefully inhaling and exhaling through the nose. We’re guided to do as many rounds as is comfortable and feels beneficial for us. Mostly we seem to be doing 2 sets of around 35. Between each round we take a moment to allow the breath to come back to normal.

Nadhi Shodhana or alternate nostril breathing. This is an amazing technique that balances both hemispheres of the brain and is great to do before meditation or bed. It is done with a mudra (hand gesture) so that each nostril can be closed off to switch back and forth.

Kappalabhati or skull shining. It might be my favorite. It is also a forceful breath, but just on the exhalation. It takes a bit more practice to master as it involves the snapping in and up of the diaphragm on that forceful exhalation. The inhalation happens on its own. We do several rounds including adding in the kicky alternate nostril bit along with it.

All of these breathing techniques are done in this order and slowly with awareness of how they are making us feel. This part takes about 10 minutes.

The breath work clears the mind to prepare it for meditation. Here we sit for about 20 minutes, followed by a gentle yoga class.

This is my new morning routine, maybe an hour, hour and 15 each day. Fingers crossed.

My treatment is scheduled early today so I will forego breakfast. Skipping lunch yesterday had the pleasant consequences I was hoping for, so I’m trusting my gut. And leaving it empty. It will all be emptied out for me anyway.

It is Big Basti Day.

I want so badly to share the details with you but I fear I will lose you forever, so let’s just leave it at this: It cannot be done wrong, at least not with these kind and loving therapists. I imagine no matter what happens they remain encouraging and tell you what a great job you’re doing.

I can tell you that the bag they use is scary. It is big and full of oatmeal colored stuff. (Imagine an IV drip bag half full.) Each basti is tailor-made to the individual. I have no idea what is in mine but it has a yellowish tinge so I’m assuming turmeric is among its ingredients. They all have some sort of oil base, like coconut, olive or even ghee. There are tiny specs of things floating around in the bag which I take to be healing herbs.

Thank you. This is good for me.

It wasn’t humiliating or as bad as I thought. It did produce the desired results and after about an hour I felt pretty amazing. And I get to do it all over again tomorrow! (There’s sarcasm in that exclamation point.)

Most of us are walking around lighter and glowy as we meet for dinner. It is a free night, and a movie on Netflix has been cued up for us. It is not by accident that we are going to watch What the Health. It’s food education after all. The movie is clearly shewed toward Veganism with all the right doctors and statistics. But it offers a lot of useful information. We wince and oh my god at all the right places and vow to become vegans, at least until we leave here. After the movie we engage in a lively discourse about what we have just watched. We offer our opinions as well as debate certain facts. We listen to each other and agree or disagree kindly. All movies should be viewed this way, with a group of people who are like-minded but may have differing opinions. This art of conversation seems to have been swept away with the tides of civility not so long ago.

I head to bed with the stories of the three people in the movie that went from death’s door to glowing health in just two weeks, the pleasant feeling of being empty and a text from home that the kitty I’m fostering is a monster.

This should make for some interesting dreams.

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.

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.

 

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.

Sugar Troll

Stone bridge over a canyon at the Trolls path in Norway

It’s amazing to me how I can go from gobbling sugar in various forms to not having any at all and being okay with it. It’s like a switch is thrown, but until it is I am stumbling down a long, dark hallway with no windows in the middle of a moonless night groping for it, picking up a piece of candy and maybe a glass of wine along the way.

I don’t fully understand the triggers.

In the book, The Whole30, the authors speak of slaying the sugar dragon. I find this an unfair assessment of dragons of which I have great affection. I know of no such dragon, but I am more intimately acquainted than I’d like to be with the Sugar Troll. He’s ugly and creepy and short with rotten teeth and thick black fingernails. His posture is atrocious and he emits a smell I can only compare to too much cotton candy. When he’s close to me I am disgusted. It’s usually after we’ve just polished off a pint of ice cream or a bag of m&m’s. It’s not often. Mostly he lurks around corners and behind draperies encouraging just a little more sugar in my coffee or another piece of dark – the good for you kind – chocolate.

I don’t want to slay him so much as help him find his bridge. I’m not a violent person.

For the past three days he’s been on vacation. I asked him to go, told him he deserved it. He has after all been working really hard the past few months, and if I’m totally honest, more than the past fifity years. I don’t know how he does it. He works so hard for these intense bursts; bringing me bags of Werther’s and butter rum Lifesavers. When we go shopping together at Michael’s he always insists I pick up a pack of Razzles. It’s a candy AND a gum and big piece of my childhood. I deserve the memory, he winks. He loves parties, admonishing me if I try to avoid the birthday cake, it would be rude not to have a piece. And wine, I should have lots of wine, the red kind, it’s good for me. Like dark chocolate.

And then he hibernates for a while and I back off the cavity-maker in self-abasement. Then, just when the tiniest stress begins to build because of… anything …he’s at my door with a box of gluten free ginger snaps from Whole Foods.

He’s a cheeky bastard.

We’re having heart to heart conversations these days. He‘s taking my desire for him to move out pretty personally. He’s trying to understand, but he’s hurt. There is nothing sadder than a crying, snotty sugar troll. Pitiful. I explain that he could find a nice sugar troll mate and they could fall in love and eat candy together forever.

It’s been four days and I haven’t heard from him. I hope he’s kicking back on the rocks by the stream daydreaming and sighing contentedly a lot. I really don’t want to see him again, but it’s not his fault.

We’re just in two different places. And I’d like it to stay that way.