I read this Omar Khayyam quote when I was a young girl and it made an impression on me. It goes something like this:
“To wisely live your life, you don’t need to know much.
Just remember two main rules:
Better to starve, than eat whatever
Better to be alone, than with whomever.”
Looking back, those two simple rules proved to be a valuable guideline in my life. The real meaning to me behind his words is that we all have much more energy deep within ourselves than we think.
Fasting has been part of my life for years. I used to fast on ginger tea one day a week and on green juice one week a year. Since my twins were born four years ago, I have put fasting on hold. This December, I decided to start fasting again and signed up for a weeklong group juicing retreat in Bali. Before the flight, I stopped at an airport deli to pick up drinks for the 30-hour trip. I stared at the wall of bottles—an array of beverages from coconut water to green tea—not knowing which one would give me the most energy. Suddenly, a pale-colored, lavender-rose soda in an old-fashioned, oval-shaped glass bottle with fine bubbles grabbed my attention. “I want to feel like this drink, light and fresh,” I thought to myself. I grabbed two bottles and sipped each one like champagne on my long flight.
The night before the fast, our group of ten got together for the final meal before we had to stop chewing food for seven days. Salad leaves, shredded carrot and daikon, cucumbers, tomatoes, sprouts, and fermented mixed vegetables with oil-free cilantro dressing comprised our austere last feast. “Eat as much as you want,” our facilitator of the program, encouraged us. But there are only so many plain vegetables you can munch on!
I forgot how difficult fasting was; or maybe I was just out of practice. Fragrant mangoes, colorful dragonfuit, aromatic pineapple—they were all around me on this tropical island! By lunchtime, I reconsidered how wise my decision was to fly across the world to a country that has one of the most delicious vegetarian cuisines and not be able to partake of its delectable fare. “Maybe I should fake an illness,” crossed my mind. “Tell them I got Dengue fever; then I can still eat Balinese curry for dinner.” Somehow, though, I managed to last through the first 24 hours.
The second day was worse. I felt dizzy, lightheaded, hungry and weak. The two bitter green drinks and coconut water gave me a bit of short-lived energy, but by the end of the second day, I seriously plotted my escape—especially after I had my first colonic.
What kept me from running away was the group sharing. Hearing other people’s struggles with the same things I was feeling gave me the courage to continue. I managed to last through the third day of morning yoga, green drink, group sharing, probiotic shot, sipping coconut water on my break, another bitter green drink, a workshop with a guest teacher, more group sharing, and closing circle. By the end of the third day, I finally fell into a routine and, however uncomfortable some of my symptoms were, I was committed to not eating anything the whole week.
When I awoke the fourth day, I realized something was missing. I scanned my body trying to discern what it was. “I am not hungry,” I whispered to myself with great surprise. “How can it be? I haven’t eaten in three days!” I sprang out of bed and looked in the mirror. I had lost 5 pounds, my eyes looked clearer, my skin radiant, and I felt lots of good-quality energy. This wasn’t the frenetic kind; it was the clean, vibrant type I had as a teenager, when nothing could tire me out.
The fifth day was hard again. I felt hungry and tired. I had low energy, and I was irritable at everyone and everything. The memory of day four was the only thing that kept me going. I wanted to bounce around like I was 16 again.
I woke up on day six with a great surge of energy, after only five hours of sleep. I came out of my room to see a beautiful raspberry-honey sunrise and enjoyed the songs of the unfamiliar native birds. The large drops of rain from the night before glistened on the leaves like translucent pearls. I took a deep breath, soaking in the vibrant green that surrounded me, squinted my eyes from the luminous morning light gently ricocheting off my eyes through the palm leaves. I sighed deeply and thought, “This is why I flew across the world, for this single moment of deep beauty and connection.”
On the seventh day, we broke our fast: a smoothie for breakfast, papaya salad for lunch, and green salad for dinner. All week, I fantasized about this day, when I would get to use my jaw muscles again and feel the joy of a full belly. When I held the cup containing the morning smoothie in my hand, I almost cried. I didn’t want the feeling of incredible lightness and aliveness to dissipate. Slowly and with great awareness, I took the first spoon of green and yellow puree. It dissolved delicately in my mouth. One tiny spoon after another, I savored a banana and greens smoothie with great delight. All day, I ate without any oil, salt, or sugar, amazed at how much flavor there was in simple fruits and vegetables. I closed my eyes with every bite and marveled at my new sensations.
Not just the sensation of taste but also other sensations became vivid, as well. It was as if I uncovered the beauty of a brightly colored carrot, or the delight of hearing the crisp crunching of cucumber, or the pleasure of gently touching the smooth skin of a coconut.
On my flight back from Bali, I looked at the selection of drinks, and without much thought, I reached for water. I no longer craved the sugar or the lavender perfume to feel alive. I closed my eyes, and in my mind, I smelled the sweetness of pink Limeira that grew outside my window in Bali. I no longer needed outside stimulation. It was as if the lavender champagne was now flowing through my veins. I felt drunk on my life force. Next time, if a good choice of food is not available, I can simply skip a meal without compromising, knowing I have everything I need inside of me to feel nourished.