My husband and I departed to India three weeks ago to participate in an Ayurvedic ashram to hopefully provide a course-correct on some long-standing health issues. We are receiving daily consultations via pulse and tongue diagnosis, with the supremely talented physician, to diagnose our dosha or constitutional imbalances. He then customizes our treatment and dietary protocols, which include herbal medicine and a variety of exotic hot oil and herbal massages and steams, a part of a comprehensive treatment protocol called Panchakarma.
I have been regaling our tribe via social media with details on the first “strengthening” phase of our India journey. While many of you are now wistfully jonesing to experience this extended retreat in an exotic place steeped in spiritual traditions, complete with three squares of healthy homemade vegetarian meals and awesome Abhyangam hot oil massages, as it is your version of heaven (as it is mine) — there is another not-so-glamorous phase to this deep detoxification process.
After 5 days of swilling warm ghee and more than 36 herbs to make you purge as many toxins as possible, in a fit of much needed levity on our final purgation day, affectionately called “toilet day”, I thought of sharing the rest of the story…
Surprising Truths I Learned About Myself in India
1. I totally can survive without a washer and dryer. In fact, I kinda like hand washing my undies. (Just don’t tell my husband and give him ideas!)
2. Living simply, as do more ancient cultures, has some merits, but it is not all it is cracked up to be. Modern conveniences can really rock. In the tropics, the ability to close your doors and windows to keep out all manner of flying, biting and crawling things and put on the AC is a gift from the gods and goddesses so be ever grateful if you have it!
3. I never imagined I would live in a hot, tropical clime like Florida, but it has some merits. For example, it has been a good boot-camp sort of preparation for:
a) handling extreme heat and humidity without whining “OMG, it’s really disgustingly hot!” every five minutes
b) needing to take cold showers several times a day since my sweat has soaked yet another set of clothes, and
c) not screaming or even waking up my husband when I had more kinds of creepy unknown insects crawling over my face in bed at night than in a Hitchcock horror flick…
(PS — true confession: the night after I wrote this and before posting, I have to take this back. Immediately after lights out, a cricket, a large beetly thing, a decent sized spider, several unidentified flying bugs and untold mosquitoes all landed on my FACE and I did scream. And, no one even checked on me… it must happen a lot here. I slept with my flashlight under my pillow. Not sure what that accomplished, except that I could IDENTIFY my attackers I guess.)
4. I can now take the not so subtle universal hint and do something more simple and organic, like walk or breathe or read from a real book when the power goes out for the seventeenth time again today — without totally losing it. Yes, there is life without Internet.
5. I’ve always really hated taking the time to cook and my idea of heaven would be to have a personal chef. Having someone shop, prepare and cook all your meals was one of the best things about ashram living. But now, even though a master Indian Ayurvedic chef is cooking and serving me three uber-healthy meals a day, I realized how much I often LOVE planning, shopping, prepping, and cooking meals. Wow. Who knew? (Kumara if you read this, note I said OFTEN not ALWAYS.)
6. Truly unplugging and resting my body and mind, (e.g. not even reading emails or a book), which as a long-time meditator I thought I had mastered, is actually really hard work and I pretty much suck at it. (thus this list)
7. Even though I try to see the bigger picture of poverty here and practice detachment, I still can’t stand to see animals suffering in the streets. I do know many of the humans are no better off. Somehow I can’t shake the belief however that the people have more power or choices than the animals do. My detachment goes right out the window. More spiritual practices, please. I can’t seem to find the okayness in this.
8. Being rather prudish all my life about my body, I am now able to allow a strange young Indian doctor I just met to massage hot oil over me while wearing only a loin cloth to cover my genitals (yes ladies, that means bare boobies and butt) without flinching. Finally, some sense of annoying mis-placed Catholic modesty has left in the presence of a master healer.
9. Giving something gross a really fancy name can make it totally socially acceptable dinner talk. “Purgation” day is pure purgatory, where you drink ghee and herbs whose sole purpose is to flush your insides squeaky clean; you best be no further than 3 feet away from the nearest toilet. After years of being told that toilet humor is for 5 year olds, and definitely not appropriate table talk; here Purgation Day has placed toilet talk back in vogue and you are expected to describe in great detail your excrements’ smell, shape, size and frequency. And, no matter what the grown-ups tell you, farts (or foerts as Kumara says) really ARE funny. (Did you know that according to Ayurveda, they are one of the 13 things, like a sneeze, that you are never to withhold?!)
10. Even though it took three months for our waste disposal service to find our Florida home and pick up our trash when we first moved, and it became our pet peeve as we had to yell at them every single week (I even ran down the streets in my pajamas for three blocks to get them to stop and take our trash) — I now recant and will testify that our trash services in the US are fantastic. Everywhere we go there are piles of uncollected trash of all kinds, ruining every beautiful lush jungle view, every sacred temple, and every street and shop because the politicians here won’t figure out how to get over their corrupt pettiness and pull a system together. I will kiss my garbage collector when I get home.
11. While I like to think that after 25 years of spiritual practices I have overcome being competitive, competition can creep into just about anything. “Hi, I am Kumari, and I am a competitive pooper!” When told we were supposed to have 5 or 6 bowel movements before we could eat solid food, I was not-so-secretly very pleased with myself when I was 3 BMs ahead of Kumara. Now, are you still envious of our India experience? Didn’t think so… Panchakarma ain’t for sissies.
12. Being with myself more fully, in both mind and body, is both more boring and more enlightening than I expected. Strangely, I have not been drawn at all to the local shrines or temples. Yet yesterday I went down to the sacred Tunga river, and sat at the base of a huge boddhi-like tree, and experienced the final phase of an ongoing Divine or “Great Mother” initiation that started since I arrived here, right there in full view of women washing their clothes and children splashing.
But more on that later… India certainly has its charms. Namaste.