Sunday, January 16, 2011
The Spirituality of Cleansing
Two years ago I was 10 pounds heavier; I smoked, drank at least two glasses of wine a day, had no libido, and was on the verge of a divorce. I was angry an unhappy. I had regular panic attacks. My energy level was almost nonexistent and I felt trapped in a downward emotional spiral. I was afraid all the time, felt myself aging before my time, and didn't know how to change it. And each day brough a deeper feeling of worthlessness and defeat. All I could do was drag myself through the motions, dreading the possibility that this was how the rest of my life was going to be.
But everything began to change in April 0f 2008 when I intervewed Karyn Calabrese for the Ageless Beauty issue of Today's Chicago Woman magazine. The owner of a raw gourmet restaurant, a classic vegetarian restaurant, a cutting edge vegan restaurant, and a state-of-the-art wellness center in Chicago, Karyn is a 63-year-old who's been eating a raw diet and cleansing regularly for 40 years. And she looks younger than most 35-year-olds.
Karyn told me that cleansing was the portal to the spirit. But I didn't get it - the way I saw it, cleansing was only about the body. I mean, come on – you either modified or stopped your food intake, you dropped weight and felt better – that’s totally physical! In my limited view, the spiritual existed in some unseen ethereal realm; a place that transcended the physical. And I saw the two as mutually exclusive...
...Until I did my first cleanse. Right away the physical part of cleansing began to manifest spiritual issues. At first, I had to deal with the feeling of deprivation – deprivation of my beloved distractions like peanut M&Ms, pizza, CokeZero, and sauvignon blanc. So I busied myself in the kitchen, experimenting with recipes and filling the fridge up with rice, lentil, and quinoa dishes, and soups of every color and texture. But once the fridge was full, there was nothing left to do but sit with the stillness that comes with cleansing.
You know what I’m talking about – that moment when you pick up a wine glass or a piece of cheese and then remember it’s off limits. The stillness hits right then - when you realize how much of your life is taken up in the pursuit of cleanse-unfriendly substances. And you’re faced with the task of filling up that time with something else. And it’s hard at first. So you sit in the stillness. And wonder what the hell to do.
I read. A lot. A self-help devotee, I’ve got all the bestsellers on my bookshelves. I return to "The Artist’s Way" again and again, I love anything by Deepak Choprah, and I’m a sucker for all things Dr. Wayne Dyer. But this time I turned to Eckhart Tolle’s “A New Earth.” It forced me to look at myself honestly – to strip away the myths I had created about myself, my life, and how I’d gotten to where I was. And I didn’t like where I was – on the verge of a divorce; or what I saw – an angry woman who was a victim, a bitch, and scared shitless.
But cleansing was the equivalent of being given a freshly sharpened machete to hack through the underbrush of my psyche. I faced ancient issues that had been lurking for decades and informing my actions and emotions, even in the present day. And I dealt with them rationally. That was something I'd never done before; in the past I always turned to something that would alter my consciousness (sugar, caffeine, or alcohol). But this time I didn’t have anything to turn to. Except myself.
I cried almost every day for the first 18 days. I grieved for my marriage, for myself, for all the mistakes I’d made, for all the wrongs I’d done. When the tears subsided, I examined the behaviors that had gotten me to where I was at that moment. And then I focused on changing them.
I decided that in the same way that I was practicing mindful eating, I’d practice mindful living. In the same way I considered the effects of my food choices, I would consider the effects of my actions. And in the same way I took responsibility for my diet, I would take responsibility for my life. And in so doing, I reclaimed my power. Check it out – power over my food choices; power over my life choices. How’s that for symmetry?!!
I gained confidence as I got further into the cleanse – I was doing something I never thought I could – and it bolstered my strength. I was no longer angry because I was no longer a victim. And I was no longer scared because I trusted my own strength. As I cleared away all the emotional debris that had kept me from a life of gratitude and hope, I could see that life developing - because I was finally creating it.
Cleansing helped me to reconnect with my authentic self, my soul, my spirit - whatever you want to call the part of me that invites and honors compassion, joy and love.
I don’t have a name for my higher power, but then again, I haven’t been in a plane that’s going down. Even so, I don’t doubt for a second that there’s a source that drives me. And as long as I keep the channels in this body clean, that source has a way to move through me. I believe spirituality is a collaborative effort - as long as I’m on Earth, my body is responsible for transporting my soul. And I think my soul deserves better than a junk heap. That’s why I’m here.
No matter your spiritual affiliation, I hope the start of this new year brings you a sense of abundance, gratitude and hope. I hope you’re feeling healthy and happy. And I hope you’re feeling refreshed and renewed, in body and spirit.