Dr. K and I married on Friday the 13th, under a full moon on a beach in the Bahamas—and then honeymooned in southern India for 30 days. (Dr. K’s idea.) It’s a wonder the marriage lasted until day 31. Good thing I was truly, madly, deeply because though there is great beauty in India, there is also wretched poverty, stomach-turning disease, crushing crowds, perilous traffic, constant motion sickness, foul smells, dicey food choices, thick pollution, and a multitude of microscopic creatures that stowaway in the depths of your intestines only to be discovered at home six weeks later. (FYI: That’s when they reach maturity).
It wasn’t exactly honeymoon material. We spent many days darting barefoot across burning stone temple floors, jostling in backseats where I gripped Dr. K’s thigh so hard in sheer terror that he was bruised for weeks, sleeping in hotels where we never knew if it was 5-piece bathrooms or moth-eaten blankets and a rusty fan, and exploring opulent palaces amidst toothless beggars and ragged children. I am drawn to wide-open spaces; but much of India is like a Where’s Waldo picture.
From overturned trucks on fire to cows roaming the streets to piles of steaming garbage to sari-clad women, their scarves fluttering like flower petals in the wind, to markets brimming with a rainbow of exotic fruits and veggies, the contrast of wealth and suffering is shocking. The people are warm and friendly. There are lush rural areas and historic tea plantations, artistic tradition and a zest for life, but it is truly an assault on the senses.
This 27-day challenge has brought it all back. Of course, there’s the cows-are-holy-and-we-don’t-eat-them thing. Still, I can’t help but wonder if sheer necessity for a quiet mind, in a place where life is so physically omnipresent, is the underlying reason (beyond religion and history) that finding “thoughtful awareness” through meditation is rooted in India?
So, in honour of that special place, here is The Meat, The Bittersweet and The Retreat.
It’s one thing to whip up an old standard meal, it’s quite another to follow recipes every day. I surround myself in kitchen chaos from 1:00 pm -3:30 pm, pick up the kids, race to activities, then finish the dinner details. Of course, it’s all wolfed down in 10 minutes, but Dr. K enjoys it. At least he enjoys the fish part. Now, as I am fish-free, unless I’m feelin’ the love and want to cook a second meal, he’s going veggie too. But, as planned, I’ve cooked more in the last few weeks than I have in years—and with renewed interest. Miraculously, I’m good at it. Little C remarks about my Crab and Asparagus Stuffed Tilapia:
“Mommy you made that?” Though he won’t try it, he’s in 5-year-old awe.
“Yep,” I dish proudly, holding up the plate as if displaying a piece of art. “Why, what do you think?”
“I think it looks too hard for you to make.”
Ah, it warms the heart.
Many people tell me, “I could be a vegetarian. No problem.”
And I believe them. I don’t miss heavy steak and lardy bits of ground beef. Chicken is a bit of a means-to-an-end. Like, hmm I need a protein in this salad, stirfry, wrap, sandwich…. Beans give me gas. I can’t be bothered to make fish. Ah, I’ll make chicken. Again. I am officially a convert to my father-in-law’s ABC (Anything But Chicken) axiom. I’ll do the odd roast turkey or grilled chicken breast–but it’s no longer my default.
That said, when I tell people that I am also not eating refined sugar they balk.
“Ugh, I could never do that.”
“It’s not so bad,” I say honestly.
“I could never live without my chocolate and ice cream.”
Yes you can. You can eat fruit. Bananas and dates are natural sweeteners. (Try this Coconut Covered Date Ball recipe, minus the chocolate and sugar). I use limited coconut sugar in my healthy desserts. I don’t eat gluten, so refined sugar in white bread and pasta is out. I don’t crave the sweet anymore. The cutback has been moderate, but I lost 6 lb. That was never my intent. The point of all these 27-day fiascos is to put myself in a position of growth, challenge and change.
Anyone. Can do anything. For 27 days.
Ayurveda is a 5000-year-old form of medicine. According to Deepak Chopra it’s based on the concepts that “1) the mind and the body are inextricably connected, and 2) nothing has more power to heal and transform the body than the mind.” It encompasses meditation, sleep, diet, supplements, exercise, nature, and spa treatments (!) How did we last until day 31? Dr. K has Ayurvedic spa treatments to thank for that.
This was my favourite: I wear the paper underwear uniform and lie on a wooden table. My eyes are closed as two therapists rub healing oils all over my half-naked body. A stream of oil pours onto my third eye, mid-forehead, calming my central nervous system, connecting mind and body. The idea of Shirodhara is to achieve a kind of restful awareness. It is all I can do to not slide off the table. But, it is the closest I’ve been to a meditative state. Ever. A sense of calm and focus washes over me. That is, until they sit me in a wooden steam box with my head sticking out of the top. Then it is more about panic. You know those antique jack-in-the-boxes that scared the shit out of us as kids? I can’t pop out.
That said, it was an unforgettable experience. I am now creating my own private meditative retreat daily—in the safety of my own home. I highly recommend taking 10 minutes a day to meditate, using a guided meditation app (like Headspace) to get started. Numerous articles cite the benefits of slowed heart rate, decreased production of stress hormones and increased production of neurotransmitters that enhance wellbeing. I just feel calm and clear after my sessions.
The results so far from Meatless and Meditating? Healthy body and a healthy mind. Take a page from my own private India and go for it.