Toxic/Not Toxic

This is toxic:


This is not toxic:


And that’s why I don’t use the word ‘detox’. Yes, it’s time for my yearly campaign to ban the word ‘detox’ and any associated eating plan that encourages us to either eliminate entire classes of macronutrients, requires a blood test before we meal plan or encourages us to subsist on lemon, cayenne and honey.

Why don’t we call what most of us are about to embark on in a few days’ time what it actually is: an opportunity to practice mindful eating.

The problem with a ‘detox’ program – or any strictly defined and limiting diet that promises more than it can deliver – is that it is finite. The rules and edges are so sharply defined that we are almost guaranteed to fail.

If instead we reframe our efforts as an opportunity to slow down and to consider our food choices, we allow ourselves room to explore, to try something new, to reset and – most importantly – to change our relationship to food, our bodies and the intentions we hold when we eat.


The Pen Collector

Just a few of my several dozen pens.

Just a few of my several dozen pens.

The thing about tolerating a cold is that in between blowing the nose and hacking up phlegm balls, you have quite a bit of time for thinking.

On November 19th a cold took hold at 38,000 feet over the Pacific when a stranger a few rows behind let loose with a wet and righteous sneeze. At the time I remember calmly telling myself, “I’m going to get that.” Repeated slaps to the forehead while silently screaming “NO NO NO NO you idiot WHAT were you thinking?!?!” were not enough to talk my immune system down from the inevitable and, sure enough, on the evening of Tuesday the 20th while watching a DVD with my friend, I began to cough.

By the following morning I had a full-blown excuse for staying in bed with the duvet tucked tight for the next seven days.

But, like I said, it gave me time to think. Perhaps it was feverish delirium, but the one thing I thought most about were the two flowerpots full of pens I keep on the right hand corner of my desk next to the twelve spiral notebooks I keep stacked at attention in the event I should have just one brilliant thought worth noting (there at least a dozen more notebooks awaiting active duty in a dresser drawer). “Why on earth,” I muttered, “do I have so many pens and notebooks?”

I’m a pen snob. I prefer an ultra fine Pilot G2 gel point in black. They have good glide.

I’m not as picky about my spiral notebooks, although I prefer the 9 ½ by 7 inch Callbers. Yes, I have a couple of those fancy black notebooks – the one Hemingway preferred – but I’m afraid of them. They’re a bit too pretty. I wouldn’t dare deface them with my chicken scratch – even with a black inked ultra fine Pilot G2 gel point.

Yes, I recognize my obsession with notebooks and pens is a symptom of something more troubling.

When I recovered from my cold I took a good look around me. In my medicine cabinet were six different brands of hair ointment all promising to do the same thing for my curls. In my closet? Sixteen pairs of shoes. There are three more pairs in a basket by my front door. Four tubes of toothpaste. Five brands of antiperspirants. An assortment of travel sized bottles of shampoo, conditioner and moisturizer.

You see where I’m going with this. I feel a little New Year’s challenge coming on.

I’m going to try to survive 2013 without making any new purchases.

Before you think I’ve gone around the twist, here are the guidelines:

Obviously I will need to pay rent, purchase food, gas for my car, electricity. I will also be spending money on books and tuition this year as well as airfare for a trip back East.

What I won’t allow myself to buy is any item bought to replace an item that I already have and that is still in good working order. I can only replace personal care items like soap, shampoo, deodorant and moisturizer when what I have is within a use or two of running out.

No new pens or notebooks.

No new clothes or shoes – I have more than I need.

But what about entertainment? Meals out? The occasional over-priced coffee?

I’m not trying to live the life of an ascetic. I still want to live well and enjoy life fully. I will set a budget over the next few days to accommodate life’s little frills.

This is a simple exercise in mindfulness. Ours is a greedy and wasteful society. I want to pay better attention to how much I waste and what I truly need.

Anyone care to join me?












Monkey See, Monkey Do, Monkey Mind: Further Adventures in Meditation

Over the weekend some ill-timed and unkind words hurt the feelings of a dear friend. With a rare lack of consideration, I replied to a friend’s loving note with rude sarcasm.  When I realized my mistake it was, of course, too late.  I could not take back what I had written.

I am a kind person.  I am empathetic and accommodating.  This lapse in judgment was unusual for me and I continued to dwell on it until little Monkey Mind and her chattering little monkey friends cobbled together a story in my brain that my heart grabbed hold of like a dog with a bone.  Click here to read a great article about what the Buddha had to say about the monkey mind.

The result?  Monkey Mind’s got me.  She has a firm hold of my cerebral cortex and is giving it a real rattle.

You know Monkey Mind, don’t you?  She’s the uninvited guest who insinuates herself in many ways.  She’s our inner gossip.  She keeps our mind restless and unsettled; doubtful and confused.

I regret the choice of words I used with my friend but instead of acknowledging my lack of judgment and moving on Monkey Mind is making certain I stay stuck right at the moment when I pressed ‘send’.  I’ve no opportunity to push ‘pause’; no way to hit ‘delete’. Instead, my mind is set on instant replay so I can witness the fumble on a constant loop. I’ve seen the sequence of events in my mind’s eye enough times to rewrite several different, happier outcomes.  But of course those alternative outcomes will not be realized.

Monkey Mind is a trouble-making nuisance that serves no purpose.  She’s distracting. When Monkey Mind has the upper hand we lose concentration and focus.  Trying to meditate when Monkey Mind has us by the bal…er…brain is a little like trying to walk a straight path during an earthquake.

But guess what?  We should meditate anyway because a pint of comfort in the guise of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia washed down with a bottle of root beer will not settle Monkey Mind.

But meditation will.  I need to meditate.


And so I did.

I began with a thirty-minute asana practice that balanced a strong standing flow with calming forward folds.  Focusing on my breath redirected my awareness away from the chatter in my mind.

Nevertheless, when I took my seat and closed my eyes Monkey Mind was still poking at me.  But I knew a subtle shift away from Monkey Mind’s influence had begun.

As I settled into meditation, I did not force myself to ignore the chatter.  Instead, with detachment and non-judgment, I simply watched my thoughts as they rose, lingered and floated away.

I turned my awareness to the tip of my nose where I noticed the cool in-breath and the warm out-breath.  And when I felt suitably centered I began to silently repeat the mantra ‘so-hum’.

Thirty minutes later I blinked my eyes opened and took a gentle stretch.

I will not try to convince you that Monkey Mind disappeared after one asana and meditation practice.  What I can tell you is that Monkey Mind’s loud, distracting and overriding cackle has softened.  Once more I can thrive in the present.  And that sure beats obsessing about a future I’m unable to predict and a past that I unfortunately cannot change.