Good morning. For it was a really good morning. Today was the day I got to eat SOLID FOOD for the first time in nearly a week. But for the first part of the day my hopes weren’t too high as I am told that my breakfast will consist of an apple. Although at times I have been hungry during this adventure, it’s not the hunger itself that has been much of an issue at all really. I haven’t tried to eat the wallpaper, or my own fists, or even raided my sister’s fridge for the slices of frozen watermelon that I saw in there when I put the dead lizards I found in the swimming pool in her deep freeze (till I can return with some casting materials – not to save to eat later).
What sometimes does hit you is very specific cravings. In my case, as I mentioned, very savoury things such as cheese on crackers with marmite. Interestingly, all of these things are salty things, and marmite also contains vitamin B12 (one of the few good vegetarian sources). And what’s even more interesting is that my craving for marmite/cheese/crackers dialled right down when I started getting the correct mineral salts into my water intake. But what I can say, hand on heart, is that I haven’t been craving sweet things at all. The blended vegetable and fruit juices provided during the fasting days taste SO sweet once you spend any time at all without refined sugar or carbohydrates. The last few days I have sipped those babies in the sunshine, savouring the gorgeous sweet flavours like I was sipping a frozen strawberry Margarita.
Whatever goes in my mouth I take my time with now, bowled over by the flavours like a newborn who has graduated from breast milk and plain baby rice to their first fruit pureé compote. I study the texture with my tongue, deeply inhale the scent and almost tasting it in my imagination before that first sip.
One of the lectures focused on yogic practices that might support our daily lives and one of them was ‘sensory transcendence’ – where you might see something that tempts you, want to give into a craving for something that has given you feel good endorphins (happy hormones) in the past. But instead of giving in to temptation, you focus on the sensory qualities of that memory – so, for instance, if you can smell a delicious warm pastry filled with something sweet and sticky in a nearby café…instead of buying it, eating it and perhaps feeling wretched after when you realise you’ve bungled your diet intentions, or spilled raspberry jam filling down your floaty white top, or just that the reality of the pastry wasn’t quite the match for the thought of what it would do for you…then you smell the lovely pastry deeply, and focus on the memory of what it felt like to enjoy the best pastry you’ve ever tasted, and feel the joy in your belly and spirit from that happy memory. Taste the memory, not the calories.
Old me would have told new me to fuck off even talking about savouring a memory rather than eating the whole pie, and all its friends. But new me has been finding this yogic technique very useful. If you think about it, sensory transcendence is what lustful old codgers on public beaches have been using for years whilst leering over women in bikinis young enough to be their granddaughters.
So given that at home, this sort of temptation is one of my biggest dietary weaknesses, I have been practicing sensory transcendence all week. Taking pleasure from my juices before I’ve even tasted them. Taking pleasure from admiring and photographing the raw food lunches of the other guests who have finished fasting or chosen not to fast at all. Taking in the beautiful colours, the wonderful arrangements of the food by Ali the chef there. Deeply inhaling the aromas of each dish. Asking other guests how their meal tastes, what the texture is like, what their favourite part is.
On the occasions when my sister has taken me out of the Amchara resort and to the nearby town or seaside, sensory transcendence has become something of a necessity. You just try walking past beach-side restaurants when you’ve been fasting for several days, where everyone is outside in the sunshine eating freshly baked mushroom and goats cheese pizza, or fresh grilled fish with lemon wedges or something else gorgeous without using a mighty helping of sensory transcendence to keep you this side of the naughty line.
But an apple I couldn’t get excited about. I have nothing at all against them, but it’s never been a particularly favourite fruit of mine, I didn’t particularly need anything sweet, and in terms of the inviting looks of an apple…well, it’s not really very creative is it. Just a ball with a dimple.
I arrived at the juice/food room to collect my breakfast and found that instead of a plain old apple on the tray, I had a plate with delicate thin slices of the freshest rosy skinned apple and a couple of lime wedges. Nay had recommended I squeeze the lime all over and eat slowly, chewing everything very thoroughly. This meal is given to guests to get them back into the process of masticating, and the connection from jaw and tongue and saliva glands and brain and stomach – stimulating the right amount of gastric acids to be produced to aid digestion of that first important solid meal after the fast. Taking my plate to the garden like a religious offering in my hands, I found a quiet table in the morning sun and carefully took my first slice of apple in both paws, like a little hamster. I closed my eyes and sniffed it first, and could immediately sense the sweetness and tartness and moisture contained in this apple. Taking my first bite, it hits you like a little high. The healthy, fruity equivalent of that WOOF! feeling when you down a shot of some sort of lovely alcohol and your mouth and nose and saliva glands all react at once. Mmmmm. Good apple. I’m sorry I didn’t photograph it for you, but it was too precious a moment to share with anyone else in that way.
It took me almost an hour to eat that apple, and it is kind of daft how full and satisfied it made me feel too. With the gorgeous crunch of the crisp almost biscuit textured flesh as it broke between my teeth, and the slippery feel of the light, fresh skin on my tongue as I chewed slowly, PROPERLY, for the first time in forever that I became utterly lost in sensory overload, and nearly forgot that I had a 10 o’clock appointment with an angel – the lovely Katarina again. Yes. Yes I did. I booked a second hot stone massage for myself and a reflexology session for Nay – my treat this time. If I was trying to justify the self-indulgence and the cost I would explain carefully how massage and relaxation are really important during the fasting and detoxing process – aiding the lymphatic system and the liver to do their jobs, enriching the skin with fresh blood and oxygen. Except I’m not going to try and justify it to anyone. I just wanted another one. Hell, I work bloody hard all year and I’ve done brilliantly with fasting and colonics and getting on planes by myself and I absobloodylutely deserve every single second of the brilliantly fantastically slippery hot and sensual massagey goodness of Katarina’s hands kneading my fleshy wobbliness into submissive, tender portions of prime meat. It felt awesome. I’m apologising to no one. Get your own bliss, this is all mine.
I floated out of the treatment room, past the pool, wafting a friendly flimsy arm in the general direction of my friends near the pool, smiling like a drunken puppy at anyone who would look at me and share in my floaty wafty happiness. And I honestly can’t remember what happened for the next hour. I feel sure I was doing something but I may have to come back to this and add it in at a later date, because I was so high on my own endorphins and the physical sleepiness of my body’s first attempt to digest food in a while that I just lost a whole hour. I could quite possibly have spent it, evangelising to the staff in reception about how happy I was feeling with them being far too lovely to shoo me away and tell me they had work to get on with.
That’s one of the lovely things here. Staff make time for guests. There are always one or two of them wafting around at any given time to check you have everything you need to feel safe and good and inspired. I spent quite a lot of time this week just talking to people with a stupid grin on my face. The staff are so patient and lovely. They must have seen transformations like this a thousand times and yet they still take the time with you to share in your personal moments of eureka and euphoria, nodding their heads enthusiastically like it’s a miracle. I guess it is, no matter how often it happens here.
Anyway, I digress. I suddenly remember what it was I did next. I went for a morning swim in the gorgeous courtyard pool. However this particular swim was rather special. One of the staff members who I particularly felt a bond with, and whose name I won’t mention here in case I’m revealing anything she wouldn’t want blogged, had seen me during the week, swimming merrily round the pool by myself, then finishing with a float on my back in a state of fabulous relaxation.
Over the past few months, a few of you might have been following my swimming posts raising funds for Macmillan as I built up from a feeble 2 pool length doggy paddle to being able to swim for up to 90 minutes without stopping…and proper grownup strokes and all! This staff member had seen how comfortable and blissed out I look laying on my back in the pool, totally supported by the water meniscus like a big curvy water boatman, and this had captured her attention because for a long time she had had a water phobia and since coming to work at Amchara had not yet dared to go in the pool. She asked me if I would try and teach her to float the way I do. And feeling honoured at the precious chance to give something healing back to one of the ladies who has helped give me and teach me so much this week, I eagerly agreed.
After a few minutes of building up to it (and sunning herself on one of the comfy pool beds nearby…it was her day off after all), she came and joined me in the gorgeous chlorine-free pool. Initially she was very nervous, which most of us know makes swimming or floating pretty hard. But with a little gentle encouragement, I needed to do almost nothing except just BE with her and understand her fear (which of course I do, having struggled with so many anxieties and phobias through my life and also celebrated the sheer liberating joy of conquering one or two of them over the years). I talked about how, in still waters it is near impossible to even make yourself sink and touch the bottom even if you want to, and just how easy it is to float when you get the hang of it. Repeatedly she tried to get into the floating position, laying flat across the surface of the water with arms and legs outstretched (the easiest starting position – or ‘starfishing’ as I call it; but each time her head touched the water she bolted upright, unable to trust the water to hold her like a mother cradles a baby. But I could see the determination in her eyes, not just to conquer the fear but to taste the lovely floaty feeling she’d watched me enjoy each morning over the last few days. So once more I demonstrated how I could starfish, and even lay there floating in the water with my legs together, then legs crossed even (as if reclining on a sun bed) with my hands behind my head making a water pillow. And then laying in a cross shape with my legs straight out but my arms gently wafting up and down like wings. ‘Like an angel,’ I said. And I could see that was the trigger word for her, and with renewed determination to experience the freedom that water buoyancy gives us, to float, to fly, to move in ways we cannot do on land. ‘We spend 9 months of our lives floating like this,’ I said gently. And then she lay back, and even though it was just for a second or two…she did it. The perfect starfish, arms out like the Earth angel she is, a huge smile on her face. And even though she bolted up pretty quickly, she beamed and knew she had done it and from that moment on it would get a little easier each time. Again she repeated, and again, each time her moments of ‘flight’ lingering a moment longer than the time before. I recognise that feeling, the feeling when you know you’ve turned a corner with a phobia.
When you become aware of your own strength as a human being to face your fears, even though they genuinely make your stomach turn at times. That is true courage – to face one’s fears and grow from it, and benefit so much for doing so. Courage isn’t NOT being afraid. Courage isn’t blindly going at anything that other people perceive as dangerous or scary without batting an eyelid. You don’t get any brownie points for that, I’m afraid. True courage is pushing yourself off the cliff of your terror even when you haven’t 100% faith in the parachute of life or logic. Courage is feeling the fear and doing it anyway, as my mother, and some best selling books before her say. And here it was, that brilliant moment when the courage starts to pay off, right here before me in the pool. Her journey was by no means over or easy, but she vowed she would practice floating each day when she could so that by the time I come back we could float together like two Bourgonvillia (I still can’t be bothered to look up how to spell that) blossoms suspended on the perfect water surface.
As I said, precious moments of courage and healing and change like that are everyday occurrences at Amchara, certainly. They certainly were for me. But how magical to have helped someone else have their own one. And if I thought my day couldn’t get any more fantastic, it was already time for LUNCH!!!
I knew in advance what to expect for lunch. At the beginning of the week I’d spotted what looked like a rather ordinary looking snack. The kind of healthy snack you’d serve at a civilised but dull party for people who don’t know that at parties you are supposed to lay with your head open beneath the bottom layer of a chocolate fountain or gorge on entire bowls full of spicy cashews until you feel sick… or stuff like that. The kind of parties where there is always left over humous at the end that’s started to go stiff and weird and change colour. When you see just how beautiful the other food is at Amchara in every way, the first lunch after fasting looks rather mean. A little bowl of crudités and a small bowl of some sort of dip – not humous but not something I could recognise. The thing was, I was looking at that ‘first meal’ with the eyes and brain of my pre-fast stomach. To a pre-fast brain, such a small portion of some raw veg in little sticks with a tiny healthy dip looks like a very meagre appetiser, not the main course. In fact, I see jokes passed around the internet taking the piss out of people on ‘that sort’ of diet. But once again I was to be totally dumbfounded by my new shrunken stomach and reborn taste buds.
That dip (they are sending me the recipe because I can’t describe the delicious with any accuracy) and those crunchy, crunchy, sweet and sexy vegetables were to my new body what a roast dinner is to a normal person. And it’s very hard to eat food you find that delicious without making ‘sex noises’ of pleasure out loud. So I did. And it was OK, because here at Amchara…everyone is going through it. They might be at a different stage to you, but you see people come in and out of their fast each day and the same phrases come out of their mouth – their shrunken appetites yes, but the intensity of their ability to taste things now, how they see the beauty and splendour of the simplest soup, the plainest carrot (organic, of course, but nevertheless). You see the joy in their faces. We are all reborn. But this IS how we are all born, and fasting in this carefully controlled way just resets us – a reboot of the whole system so you feel like a baby again. Ever seen a video of a baby’s face when it tastes its first lemon? But ever noticed how after scrunching up their faces they often come back for more, again and again? Because not only can that baby taste the sourness of the lemon, that baby can taste the *sweetnes* too. That baby can taste the subtle undertones of flavour and the zing of the zest. And that is how I can taste right now again, after around 42-3 years of losing that ability. You’d not know anything had changed at all to look at my mouth. But I have a new mouth. If when I meet you I am pointing to it proudly inviting you to admire it, you will hopefully understand. Like when little baby boys discover their willy for the first time and then want to show it off to everyone. My mouth is awesome. And when I say ‘Yum yum yum,’ from now on you will know that whatever I’m having probably tastes much nicer than what you’re having. If there was such a word that meant ‘an orgasm for the mouth’ then I think I had one. We should invent that word. Write in with your suggestions below. I would think one up myself but I’m too distracted thinking about the dipping sauce that came with those crunchy organic vegetables. (Insert sex noises here).
Lunch was followed by the regular talk by one of the nutrition team, a beautiful, elegant lady with Disney Princess hair called Hollie, who looks like she should be playing tennis with members of the Royal Family. And Hollie was educating us about exactly what fasting does to the body right down to a cellular level, and the diseases it can help to avoid or fight, and then how to handle to process of breaking the fast and returning to ‘normal food’. All the talks have been so educational and fascinating and although you might think the stunning scenery, the gorgeous pool, the nearby sea, the sunshine, the massages and the pampering were the best bit of it, you’ll be underestimating how high up my list of favourite things these talks have been. Through learning about my body, nutrition, hydration, health, yogic practises, colonics, fasting and more, my emphasis during the week has shifted from eager to lose weight and not the least bit interested in ‘detox’ or ‘cleansing’ to a complete convert to the whole shebang. I am no longer skeptical or irritated by the word ‘detox’ because I can, hand on heart, tell you I have felt it happen in my own body, and it’s still happening now.
In many ways I’m only just getting started. The difference even a pinch or two of mineral salts to my drinking water has already made to my body and my future life is phenomenal, and when I look in the mirror I see a different person looking back at me from behind my eyes. Don’t get me wrong. I’m still fat, despite obviously losing several pounds this week. But that’s not the point. I KNOW the weight is going to come off naturally, healthily and graciously now because I have been taught how to love my body at a cellular level. I have been introduced and become on first name terms with organs I’ve totally ignored or tortured my entire life. Let me introduce you to Leonard my liver, Karina and Kaspar the kidney twins, Patty Pancreas, Larry the lymph and Loretta and Lulu the lungs. I’m giving them all their first good spring clean right now and like a neglected pet given a little attention they are all rolling over for their bellies to be rubbed and wagging their tails with joy. I’m so sorry guys. I barely even acknowledged you were in there, working so hard for me. I know as a non-smoker and rare-drinker I’m not as abusive as some, but still…way to go, serving my needs all these years without rest or compensation. Here…have a piece of fresh organic carrot and some coconut water…you’ve bloody well earned it.