Sometimes things touch us. A breath of green air from an opened window after a long, cruel winter. The combination of innocence and insouciant wisdom out of a kid's mouth. Suddenly, a robin's song. The bud of a flower, not opened yet, but full of kinetic energy, potency, brilliance. The chords of a song, perhaps. The whispers and shades of flirtation. Briefly, suddenly, we are snapped out of our day to day lives. We feel the pangs of longing, we desire. To live more. To know more. To learn. "Normal" is doubtful. We hunger and thirst. Of course, other things can touch us: the death of a dear one, recognition of passing time, a diagnosis, an old pain become so pervasive you realize you are a prisoner.
Years ago, before I knew anything of yoga and while I bounced from barroom to bedroom to suicidal moments alone on my kitchen floor, a friend sat across from me in a dirty hospital room. I was sick. She was not. The pity on her face made me more sick, but I didn't have the audacity to send her away. And I was afraid to be where I was, alone. I am so sorry for you, she said. I don't think you know how good it is to be alive. A few minutes later she stood up, touched my hair, and left. This same friend, in a different crisis I'd imposed on myself, said you can't do this any longer; you won't survive. She went on with things about self-respect, responsibility, yadda yadda. I scowled. How, I wondered, do you possibly begin to 'love yourself' when you hate yourself so very much? It begins with your behaviors, she said. Sooner or later, you just start to feel better about yourself.
She wasn't entirely right. I did have hunches about the sweetness of a human life. I had memories. I had loved, once in a while. I had known the passions of travel and art. I had a dog, once, and I had walked in the woods. There had been times I'd felt something like the breath of spring on my body and the riptide of a mind on fire, but all I had of it at the time was echo and memory. Memory so vague I doubted it's authenticity and disbelieved in it's return.
I once spent Easter in Guatemala. Once, I spent it in Greece. Once, in New Orleans. All are places that celebrate holy week in visceral, ritual, soulful ways. I consider myself an agnostic at best. Yet the passion plays of bloody crosses, pilgrimage, fasting, ashes, and rebirth move me deep. I described to a cerebral, 'life of the mind' kind of friend back in New York the way Greek widows, hunched with age and dressed in black, spend days crawling over broken streets on their knees to reach a sacred site. She listened, with a wry look of pity and dismay, as if I were telling her about something just as human but less profound. Abusive families, maybe. Blue collar beer bellies.
How pathetic. she said, and shifted the conversation.
I wondered, though. The dark clothes a widow wears, always. The bearing of crosses down streets. The falling of rose petals through an Eastern Orthodox chapel. Fasting, feasting. Not pathetic, I thought. Not pathetic at all. Passionate. Heart wrought. An emotion I don't quite feel, but recognize.
And how can we say healing is real, that hope exists, unless it is possible out of broken family histories? Why should not blue collar beer bellies be profound?
We long to be reborn, we humans. Sometimes we realize that life is not 'normal', that day to day is not enough. We ourselves want to be resurrected.
Rites of spring and rebirth are not unique to that Christian heritage. They are earthbound and global. With them, with spring, we have all sorts of ideas of being reborn, starting over, going further. Cleaning house.
Detoxification, purification, are deeply embedded in this. Now, years away from hospital rooms but not so far away I've forgotten what alcoholism and major depression are, I sometimes want to drop flowers from cathedral ceilings or blow into people's ears like spring wind. I walk around at dawn, deeply busy and yet still in a life I love and find challenging. This morning I heard a robin, after a very long, very cruel winter. Brown, muddy stuff shimmers in April sun. I want to show people, promise them, somehow reveal: this works. This is real. Detoxification and purification and rebirth, resurrection, are coded into you. Deep as your thumbprint and DNA.
Most human beings have no idea how good the human body, the human mind, is designed to feel.
And yet we can. There are ways.
The first personal observance of the yogic tradition is roughly translated as purity. It seems to me that purity is what spring time does inside us. It stirs and awakens our inherent, deeply human longing to live more, to taste more, to shed our pains and step into something greater. To become, ourselves, greater. Perhaps simply to not hurt any longer.
There are very specific practices of food, of cleansing, purification of both body and mind in the yogic tradition. But the heart of the thing is relational. The heart of it is recognition - sudden remembrance - of our deepest self and the beauty of aliveness.
Detoxification and purification are central tenets to natural medicine. And yoga is medicine. The point is simply that life and ourselves in it are good - no matter how batted about or broken or far away from 'good' we have gone. But it is hard to enjoy life if we are trapped in a body that leaves us sick and in pain. It is impossible to feel the fire of our intelligence and love if we are haunted by brittle thoughts and emotions. Therefore, regular detoxification is essential to not only heath, but to love and happiness.
A frantic woman, driven by busyness and over-strain, rushed from one task to another. Her little boy tried in various ways to get her attention. Finally, he took her face in both of his little boy hands and held her still: you're not recognizing me, he said.
Saucha, purity, is asking us to recognize ourselves, others, our work, and the day itself without the scrim and junk of past impressions. It is an invitation to see our bodies and our minds not from a perspective of diet, reform, control, or punishment, but with the idea of nourishing body and soul so we might drink from the depths. To purify so that we can live more fully.
Many of us - hell, all of us - are somewhere in that foggy land of not being able to see, not being able to feel, not having a clue how to go on or move forward or be kind to ourselves. Yogic practices are perfect, here. It is a fact that your body hears and responds to every thing your mind says and every enviornmental factor and dietic factor you come close to. But it is ALSO true that your mind feels everything your body does and everything you eat. This is our way in, this is where hope is; there are things we can DO even if our mind and heart waver. As my friend said - it starts with your behaviors. You act. You practice. You do things with your body and you try to drink more water. And eventually, suddenly, almost impossibly, you'll one day feel the green air of spring inside. Even if you didn't really believe it was possible.
TRY THIS: Spring Detox: Food, Stuff, Heart
Food: The body is in a constant state of self detoxification, as we are exposed to both internal and external toxins and irritants. However, when the body's self healing mechanisms are over taxed, we are prone to illness, injury, fatigue. Our culture does not make it easy to eat well, and 'diets' are all too often unsustainable, unrealistic, and punitive. Finding a detox that works for you a few times a year might surprise you with its results.
Spend a day or two not changing your diet at all, but noting everything that you eat. Spend time asking me, a librarian, or google about different cleanses and detoxes. Come up with a plan that is realistic and set it in action for three days, a week, or a month.
The cost is minimal, the efficacy is sound.
A body that has not occasionally detoxed becomes less efficient (in sleep, in sex, in attention span, in digestion...) Symptoms of an overloaded body include allergies, PMS, indigestion in all of it's forms, headaches, skin problems, sleep problems. Diet has been scientifically proven to affect auto immune diseases, ADHD, mental health, and inflammatory issues from asthma to arthritis to fibromylagia. Lifespan, wise, it means we age without pain or with heart conditions, arthritis, memory problems, failing joints and bowels.
The benefits of detoxification offer increased energy levels; weight loss; healthy aging; greater motivation,; better digestion and assimilation of nutrients; better concentration, memory, and focus; reduced allergic symtoms; reduced chronic pain symptoms; clearer skin and eyes; decrease or elimination of headaches, migranes, joint pain, body aches, colds, allergies, auto-immune symptoms, sleep disturbances, to name a few.
This is true for me: I did not realize or feel how sluggish and lackluster my normal was until I began to incorporate dietic practices into my life. Things I thought of as 'just the way I am' in terms of monthly cycles, skin, digestion, concentration, and sleep have radically changed. They radically change again when I stop eating from a wellness perspective. Within a day.
But they are things you do not recognize, and do not understand, unless you are paying attention.
Stuff: our lives are full of messy closets, half baked plans, procrastination and dirty laundry. All of this takes an enormous amount of physical and psychic energy to maintain (even when maintence is "I'll deal with that tomorrow").
The lightness, motivation, and sudden eruption of energy and hope and creativity that comes from one task done or one drawer cleaned is almost insulting in it's efficacy.
Look around. Cleansing and purification will look different for everyone. Perhaps it's an unfinished project. Perhaps its a phone call you haven't returned, a sinkful of dirty dishes every night, a closet become chaos.
Give it fifteen minutes. Or commit to one drawer cleaned. Or ten minutes every night this week to clean the kitchen up before you go to bed.
You'll feel better in the morning.
The first toxin in our lives is stress. It is more directly related to physical illness than is any fat, sugar, or pathogen. Just as physical clutter in our houses drains our vitality, mind clutter mucks up our sense of hope, joy, purpose. Recognizing negativity, resentment, anger, and grudges when they come up is a first step in self-resurrection.
No diet, no asana practice, and no house cleaning will ever truly detoxify you unless and until you have also purified and healed the broken stuff inside.
I speak of forgiveness. It has nothing to do with other people. It has nothing to do with fair or justice. It is much more important to realize that forgiveness and healing are things you need to do for your own damned self and beginning the hard work that it is.
Practice watching your emotions and mind in your asana or meditation practice. Notice how often judgement, criticism, and blame come up. Use those same practices - asana, class, meditation in whatever form you do it - to begin learning to let go, forgive, and regard others with compassion.
It is not easy.
But it is the way through.