It was five years ago that an old friend convinced me to attend a five day course at a local spirituality center, part of a global well being program based on deep breathing, meditation and yoga. At the time I was going through some issues at work and home, and so I thought -- why not? The Course was in the evenings at a one acre campus that was patterned on an Indian village and situated on the bank of a lake.
On the very first day, our teacher, a delightfully zany middle-aged lady, asked us to write down our course goals on a piece of paper and then promptly had us rip up the paper. "Come here without any expectations whatsoever!" she exulted with a twinkle of an eye. It was going to get even more bizarre -- at the start of every day we had to gaze deep into the eyes of other attendees and announce: " Hi! My name is _____, and I belong to you."
With my background in interior design and exposure only to your regular training courses with their folders, videos and whiteboards -- all corralled by strict timelines, objectives and takeaways, I was underwhelmed. Meanwhile the teacher announced: "You must turn off your brain like one does an idling car engine." What does that even mean, I asked myself.
All of us had to overcome the natural shyness of making fools of ourselves in front of total strangers by quacking like ducks or laughing maniacally, or else overcome the hesitation of sharing guarded secrets and perhaps bawling while doing so. By the third day though, a change was beginning within us. We were beginning to realize that this course was not about learning a new skill or acquiring information or even elucidation, rather it was about transformation deep down inside. It was total immersion which reminded me of the year i had spent in Latin America with the Peace Corps right after college. We became relaxed, more positive, less reactive and less stressed and anxious.
Throughout the course we were not allowed to smoke, drink caffeine or alcohol, or eat meat. By the fifth and final day, when i popped a sliced, freshly-plucked pear into my mouth, the explosion of taste out did anything I had ever eaten before -- and i have dined at Spago in LA and Cafe du Commerce in Paris!
After the course ended, I continued my regimen: No smoking, no alcohol, no meat, no caffeine, and half an hour of breathing, yoga and meditation every morning. After six months, I had dropped twenty three pounds without experiencing hunger, got rid of a persistent painful heartburn, and lost my snore. My skin was glowing and my cholesterol, which had reached a troubling 200+ the last time I had it measured about seven years ago, had now dropped to 160. I just knew that all the good tidings were due to one thing and one thing alone -- reduced toxicity -- in my diet, in my thoughts, and through the yoga and exercise. I had reached the Nirvana of spiritual and bodily well being!
But that is not what this story is all about, rather its about why I gave up on it all: Why I returned to a few cigarettes a day, a few drinks now and then, and to my beloved barbecues. Why I gave up on the meditation. And, as a result, returned to being overweight and tired-looking, with the snoring and the heartburn. I never did measure the cholesterol again.
Perhaps its the same as falling "off the wagon." Perhaps I needed to go for a refresher course once every six months -- as my teacher urged, and messaged -- a sort of AA support group. But, I think this was different. After all it was not like i was addicted to the alcohol or nicotine. It came down to this: Did I want balance in my life, or imbalance? And which one of the two results in creativity. Creativity is important in my profession; I fancy myself as a type of artist. No, this was more like taking the "road less traveled" -- even if it meant walking right out of Paradise.