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In watermelon sugar the deeds were done and done again
as my life was done in watermelon sugar.
— Richard Brautigan, In Watermelon Sugar

Maybe it was that the flyer hanging on the wall of my yoga studio was bright green and pink that drew me to the Watermelon Fast.

Maybe it was the fact that it would only last for three days.

Maybe it was that the fast was scheduled to begin three days after the Solar Eclipse, the longest eclipse that would occur in the 21st century.

Maybe it was because I’d been spinning out of control, wandering around my house past midnight muttering, “There’s something the matter with me,” and I needed to hit the re-set button.

It certainly wasn’t the prospect of eating nothing but watermelon for 72 hours.  Not that I hate watermelon (nothing would have made me sign up for the Brussels Sprout Fast), but it’s definitely a fruit I could take or leave.

What can I say?  The Watermelon Fast sounded extreme.  It called to me; I answered.

I’d done other cleanses through my yoga studio.  Several times I’d done a nine-day Yogi’s Cleanse that included three Green Days of eating only foods that are naturally green (Gummi Bears do not qualify.)  That cleanse involved elaborate preparation of foods, teas and juices—not to mention three days of a liver flush consisting of cloves, cayenne pepper, parsley, garlic, oranges, grapefruit, lemon, ginger, and olive oil (you prepare the night before and drink it first thing in the morning).  It ended up adding so many hours to my day that I vowed to not do it again until I had a partner willing to help with the prep.

But three days?  Nothing but watermelon?  What could be easier?

***

In many religious traditions, fasting implies a total abstinence from food and sometimes even water, as well as from sexual activity.  This practice, prevalent among Christians, Jews and Muslims, is rooted in the premise that the spirit will be nurtured through denial of the satisfactions of the flesh.

During their holy month of Ramadan, Muslims not only refrain from food, beverages, sex and smoking, but also from lying, arguing, becoming angry and indulging in indecent thoughts.  The idea is that fasting provides a discipline that allows the individual to better control his or her mind and actions.

Purification can occur on the physical level as well as the spiritual.  Although Western medicine warns of the dangers of prolonged fasting, some medical doctors and many non-Western healing traditions promote limited fasting for health.

Ayurvedic medicine, native to India, uses the mono-diet—that is, the consumption of a single food solely for a prolonged period of time, up to a month or longer—to correct chemical imbalances in the body and restore optimal health.  One of my yoga teachers spent six months consuming only skim milk.  I’ve heard stories of people eating only beets and beet greens for 40 days.

Three days of watermelon does constitute a mono-diet.

***

But before ever slicing open a watermelon, there came the first hurdle: Getting up and driving to the yoga studio in Hollywood by 6:30 a.m.  And because I do an elaborate meditation practice every morning before leaving the house, this meant rising at 4:00 a.m.  Which is only a problem if you go to bed at 1:00, which has been my habit of late.

In the tradition of Kundalini Yoga, one is always supposed to rise in the Amrit Vela, the ambrosial hours before the sun is up, and conduct a daily meditation practice called sadhana.  At this time of the morning, the angle of the sun’s rays are optimal for transmitting etheric energy. It is said that meditating during the Amrit Vela is 40 times more powerful than at any other time.  A night owl like myself is at a distinct disadvantage.  I have managed to practice sadhana for periods of time—weeks, even months at a stretch—but sooner or later the sleep deprivation starts to bring diminishing returns and I find myself punching the snooze button on the alarm and turning over.

But on the three watermelon days I set the alarm and managed not to ignore it, dragged my body from the sheets, did my sadhana and was on the road by 6:00.

***

Thirteen of us, a coven, assembled that first morning of the Watermelon Fast.  Only three were men; one was the boyfriend and another a brother of women participants.  The third man works at the yoga studio.

Sada Simran—her name means “everlasting contemplation”—is a flame-haired yoga teacher who was facilitating this cleanse.  I’d taken many classes with her and always appreciated how down to earth she is.  She welcomed us and, after introductions, asked us each to find a partner.  “Work with someone you don’t know,” she encouraged. “I want you to feel you’re supporting each other for these next three days.”  First she had us just walk around the room together, talking informally.  Then she asked us to switch partners and do back stretches while holding onto one another at the wrists; the stretch deepens due to the resistance of the partner’s body.  We changed partners again for the next exercise, which consisted of deep knee bends while holding onto one another.

After guiding us through a fairly gentle yoga set, she ended with about fifteen minutes of ecstatic dancing to a bhangra beat.  Oliver, the slender, long-haired man who works at the studio and often entwines flowers in his braids, was absolutely exuberant, leaping from one end of the room to another.  I longed to follow his example because I love to dance, but my body does not love to move vigorously that early in the morning, so I stayed pretty close to my mat.

When we at last lay down for our relaxation, Sada Simran played the symphonic gong, which carried us deep inside, our very cells seeming to vibrate with the penetrating sound.

Then it was time for our first serving of watermelon, served in the café at the yoga studio.  We all sat around the long, communal, wooden table, smiling and savoring the bright fruit.  It tasted cool and sweet on this August morning.  We were psyched and ready for what the next three days would bring.

***

From The Ancient Art of Self-Healing by Yogi Bhajan:
Watermelon diet: This diet cleanses the liver and the kidneys.  Watermelon sugar gives you energy.  This is superior to a water fast because the watermelon fibers act like little brushes which cleanse the system, especially the intestines.  In the morning eat the watermelon with freshly ground black pepper and this will relieve gas from the night before and prevent gas from forming.

***

Before making the decision to go on this fast, I’d asked my acupuncturist if she thought my body could handle it.  She hadn’t even paused before she said, “Sure.”  Then she told me she herself used to do this fast when she was younger.

Others I told were not so sanguine.  My mother sent an email wondering if it would be safe.  My student, Jenn, all but called me a moron on Facebook and told me to be sure I was keeping my electrolytes balanced.  Turns out watermelon is loaded with electrolytes, especially sodium and potassium.

Other friends on Facebook expressed curiosity and wanted to know more.   I couldn’t help but post about it; watermelon was what was on my mind for those three days.  What good is doing something extreme if you don’t tell people about it?

***

I was interested to learn that Buddhism does not advocate fasting, because of that very extremity.  It is seen to be a deviation from the path of moderation, the Middle Way.

***

I wrote back to Jenn that I was a fanatic about my health and she shouldn’t worry.  I don’t ingest meat or fowl, wheat, sugar, chocolate, processed foods, artificial sweeteners, caffeine or alcohol.  I don’t smoke; I don’t take drugs.  I don’t do pharmaceuticals (not even aspirin).  I don’t go to the doctor.  Ever.  Just the acupuncturist.  Occasionally the osteopath.  I exercise daily.   I meditate and maintain a pretty good sense of calm most of the time.

Of course, these were not my habits for much of my life.  While I was growing up, sugar was my drug of choice, later to be replaced by alcohol, then by pot, then by hallucinogens.   As a child I ate McDonalds; Kentucky Fried Chicken; Kraft Mac ’n Cheese; and sandwiches made of white bread, butter and A-1 Steak Sauce.  There were years in my twenties when I drank 15 cups of coffee a day.  There were decades when, if you looked up “stress” in the dictionary, you’d have found my picture.  The sludge of all this, my acupuncturist tells me, remains in my liver, even decades later.

Even now, my lifestyle is not perfect.  I’m a little too fond of my vegan carob treats.  I’m inclined to overdo it with the corn chips.  I could use more cardio conditioning. It feels like I never get enough sleep.  And of course I live in Los Angeles where the air is visible most days of the year.

Still, I felt confident assuring Jenn that three days of watermelon would not hurt me.

***

Even on that first day I was reminded—and I’ve been reminded of this every time I’ve done any kind of cleanse—how much I use food for comfort and entertainment rather than nutrition.  And how emotional I can become without the self-medication of food. I’d set aside that first day of the fast to catch up with the piles on my desk—my endless quest—instead of meeting with clients or students.  Why not cleanse the outer environment along with the inner, I’d thought. But after a couple of hours, I had to come face-to-face with feeling lonely.  Of course, I work at home alone many days, and actually prefer that to the days I have to careen across Los Angeles for multiple meetings.  But when I’m alone all day, a quick trip to the kitchen to blister a tortilla on the gas burner or grab a hunk of Swiss cheese or a handful of cashews is usually all I need to buck up under the solitude.  Watermelon did not have this same anesthetizing effect.

So I was happy when Rose called, even though Rose is my most recent ex, the one I still haven’t quite managed to get over, and it sometimes makes me feel more lonely after I talk to her.

“What are you doing?” she wanted to know.  I’d told her a few days before that I’d be going on a watermelon fast, but she doesn’t always remember what I say to her.

“I started the watermelon fast today.”

“Oh, that’s this weekend, huh?’

“Yep.”  I described getting up at 4 a.m. and going to the studio at 6.

“I could do a watermelon fast,” she mused, “as long as I could eat pizza on it.”

“No pizza,” I told her.  “Just watermelon.”

“That’s just wrong!”

I could tell she thought I was a little crazy to be just eating watermelon, but she’s more or less used to me doing what some might consider extreme things in pursuit of consciousness.

“So how’s it going?” she wanted to know.

“I’m starting to think about tacos,” I confessed.  I don’t talk to her about the loneliness.

But she must sense it anyway, underneath my words.  It’s a topic she’d prefer to avoid. “Well,” she said, preparing to sign off, “if it gets too intense, I say call for a pizza.”

***

Later, that afternoon of the first day, I ran into trouble.  I hadn’t expected to, being a veteran of others cleanses, daylong meditation retreats and week-long yoga teacher trainings, but by 2:00 o’clock, I began to feel lightheaded, hypoglycemic, no matter how many slices of watermelon I managed to push into my face.  I called Sada Simran.  “I didn’t expect to be calling you,” I said, chagrinned, “but I feel dizzy.”

She asked, “How much sugar do you normally eat?”

“None.”  I didn’t explain that my liver had stopped metabolizing both sugar and alcohol when I was twenty-three.

“You must be reacting to the sugar.” She was not at all alarmed; she facilitates several different cleanses throughout the year and I’m sure she’s heard it all.  “You need to ground yourself.  Do some breath of fire.  Go outside and put your bare feet on the dirt.   If you want, you can eat some root vegetables—sweet potatoes, beets.”

“Won’t that just un-do the effects of the fast?”

“Not ‘un-do.’  It will slow it down.”

But I’m a stubborn person.  I wanted all the benefits of the fast.   Right now.  I didn’t want to be the one who wimped out and had to eat root vegetables.  And besides, I didn’t have any root vegetables in the house and I was too dizzy to drive out and get some.  When the breath of fire did not remedy the situation, I lay down for a nap, something in which I rarely indulge.  Then I got up and brewed some yogi tea.  Sada Simran had told us that morning this was allowed. I figured the warming herbs in the tea—ginger, cinnamon, cloves—might trick the body into thinking it had gotten something substantial.  To my great relief, it worked.

***

Another form of fasting is the hunger strike, by which an individual or group abstains from food to make a political point or to achieve political ends.  The practice is ancient, harkening back to pre-Christian Ireland and to India.  British and American Suffragists, Irish Republicans, and Guantanamo Bay detainees are among those who have used the tactic while incarcerated in prison; Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers and Mahatma Gandhi undertook hunger strikes as political protests.  Sometimes hunger strikes are subverted through the practice of force-feeding.

***

Don’t ask me why my yoga studio had scheduled a meditation workshop on the topic of Death and Dying that same weekend as the Watermelon Fast.  I’m sure no one had intended to pair the two processes.  Even I hadn’t consciously intended to do so; I’d signed up for each of them, only later realizing their simultaneity.  The Death and Dying workshop was taking place on that first night of the fast.  In my current state of light-headedness, I did wonder about the wisdom of my operating a moving vehicle, but after a few bracing cups of yogi tea I did just fine driving over to the studio.

Sometimes the evening workshops at my yoga studio draw 200 or more students, but only a handful of people were sitting in the practice room when I arrived. The teacher, Gurushabd, joked that it must be the topic that was keeping people away.  Eventually a group of about twenty-five assembled.  No one else doing the Watermelon Fast was there.

The first hour was a lecture about what happens when we die.  Many yogis spend their lives practicing for their deaths.  One is to direct the closed eyes to gaze at the chin, then at the third eye point, and finally to direct one’s breath out the crown of the head. We need enough prana—life energy—to project our soul body out the crown of the head and through the earth’s atmosphere; otherwise we may get caught and become a ghost.  Each person has an individual mantra—known as the praan sutra—that should be repeated at the moment of death.  This, too, is practiced while one is alive, so that it comes as second nature when it’s needed.

Additionally, Gurushabd told us, at the moment of death we are given three seconds.  In the first second, we remember our purpose, the reason we incarnated into this lifetime.  In the next second, we are shown our life, what we did with it.  In the final second, we decide how we feel about this life.  If we judge ourselves, we’ll be returning, reincarnating to learn more or to pay off karma.  If we can view our lives neutrally in that third second, we will not need to take human form again.

For the next two hours we engaged in very deep meditations; the first was to create an experience of weightlessness, the second to practice crossing over from the material to the non-material realm.  It was during the meditations that a real appreciation for the watermelon fast kicked in.  It felt more comfortable than usual to sit cross-legged on the floor because I had less inflammation in my joints. It was easier to go deep into the meditations because I was not as weighted down with food.  I felt light and it made my consciousness easier to navigate.  I’m often challenged to escape the physical plane when I meditate; my nose itches, my legs go to sleep.  This evening, though, my body barely intruded at all.

***

Watermelon is believed to have originated in southern Africa, where it is still found growing wild.  No one knows for certain when the plant was first cultivated, but researchers have found evidence of its cultivation in Egypt over 2000 years ago.  In fact, watermelon seeds were found in the tomb of King Tut.

***

When I got home from the Death and Dying workshop I didn’t want any more watermelon, even though it had been six hours or so since I’d last eaten.  I finished off the yogi tea in my thermos, practiced my nighttime meditations, and calculated how I could pare down my morning routine in order to sleep a little longer and still get to the studio on time.

The next morning, only ten of us gathered at the studio, and among those of us who showed up, some appeared to be in bad shape.  One woman, who waitressed at night, had gotten just three hours sleep.  Those who normally drink coffee were experiencing the headache that accompanies withdrawal from caffeine.  I remembered how, years earlier, I’d given up coffee during a week when I had the flu; since I’d already felt sick and miserable, it had been a perfect time to detox from caffeine.

Sada Simran had us begin that morning’s yoga practice with massage.  She once more asked us to pair up and, this time, to exchange massage—first rubbing the shoulders, neck and back of the partner, then being the recipient.  Then we took turns massaging each other’s hips, the joints being places where toxins can lodge during the fasting process.  Although my partner was very nice, this exercise was not easy for me; I’m picky about who I want touching me and it can take me a long time to relax.  She kept asking me if I was a professional masseuse (I’m not, but I have very strong hands).  I was annoyed at the limp touch I was receiving, but I wanted to be gracious.

Our actual yoga set was again pretty relaxed that morning; that was fine with me.  Afterward, we once more gathered at the big table in the café and ate watermelon.  I couldn’t linger, though, because I teach on Saturdays and I wanted to be able to go home and change my clothes before going to class.

***

I brought a watermelon and a big knife to my writing classes that day.  I knew I was going to need to eat at regular intervals and I didn’t want to do so in front of everyone without sharing.  My students were divided into two groups: those who ate watermelon and those who did not.  If I had not been on the fast I would have been part of the latter group.  But even among those who did not partake there was a lot of curiosity about the fast and why I was doing it.

“Is it to lose weight?” asked the skinny, fashion-conscious poet.

These are classes I teach in the community, not in a university setting.  The students are highly motivated to be there, and we almost always have a good time together.  But this day I felt especially “on,” even more in sync than usual with my students’ work, sharper and clearer.  I felt not just smart but wise in the responses I made to their work.  Did my regular diet serve to dull me, cushion me in a cradle of calories?  Or had the previous night’s meditation practice brought me to a deeper level of awareness?

***

A Vietnamese legend tells the story of Prince Mai An Tiêm, an adopted son of the 11th Hùng King. The prince was renowned for his talents as a gardener; every piece of land he touched seemed to bring forth paradise.

Hau, a natural-born son of the king, was jealous of Mai An Tiêm, and conspired to turn the king against him.  As a result, Mai An Tiêm was exiled to an island.  If he could survive for six months, he was told, he would be allowed to return.

Fearful he would not survive in the unfamiliar landscape, he prayed for guidance.  As if in response, a bird flying overhead dropped a black seed. Mai An Tiêm cultivated the seed and it produced a fruit he called “dưa tây” or western melon, because the bird that dropped the seed had flown from the west.  By eating this fruit, the exiled prince thrived.

***

I had the opportunity to go home between my second class and the bookstore reading I was to give in the late afternoon.  I’d just had a novel come out a few weeks earlier and this was to be my second promotional event.

Although I needed down time—a nap, some time to rehearse for the reading—I found I was wired.  I spent over an hour on the computer, including time answering questions about the fast from people on Facebook.  When I next looked at the clock, I realized I barely had time to change clothes and go.

I ate a couple of slices of watermelon to keep the blood sugar up, filled a thermos with hot yogi tea to keep from keeling over and left for the bookstore.  I’d been feeling great most of the day, but the stress of performing made me feel suddenly un-centered and out of control.  When I arrived at the bookstore, I found only a handful of people had shown up.  It’s not that I haven’t read to a small group before—every writer has—but it requires greater energy to extend oneself on a more intimate basis, and I wasn’t sure I had that energy available. Still, by the time I was introduced, about a quarter after the hour we were scheduled to start, the seats were all filled.

The audience ended up being an unusual assortment of people from very disparate parts of my life—my former student, Cara, came with her baby; another former student from years earlier, Ayofemi, who gets around in a wheelchair; a former girlfriend, Vicki, who’d already attended my first publication event for this book and on whom one of the characters in the book is based; and Danielle, the executive director of one of the arts organizations I consult for.  There was Tania, an opera singer who’s close friends with another of my exes; she brought three people, none of whom looked like folks I would have expected at this event.  There were Judith and Aaron, colleagues from the arts community, Judith herself a writer, who were also responsible for bestowing the new bookstore kitten, Frannie, upon Skylight Books.  There was Ramon, a poet who’d recently asked me to look over his manuscript.

I’d chosen to read something challenging, a chapter in which every character in my book makes an appearance (there are a lot of characters in my book.)  When I train students about how to give a reading, I always say, “Don’t pick something with a million characters in it.”  But I had ignored my own advice.

As I read, I couldn’t tell how or if the work was connecting with the audience.  I felt I hadn’t rehearsed enough; I didn’t feel in control of the material.  I offered to take a few questions at the end; mercifully, there were a few questions, although one woman tried to hijack the proceedings by giving a lengthy account of her own experience.  People were polite; a few books were sold; a few buyers had me sign them.  Was it really a laconic gathering or was my perception colored by my diet of only watermelon?

***

Because it grows on a vine, watermelon is considered by horticulturalists to be a vegetable. The fruit can be white or greenish-white, yellow, orange, pink and red. The rind may be striped or solid and is itself edible. In China, watermelon rinds are stir-fried with olive oil, garlic, chili peppers, scallions, sugar and rum.  

There are over 1200 varieties of watermelon grown around the world.  Turkey and China are the top two producers of watermelon; the U.S. is fourth.  In Japan, farmers produce cube-shaped watermelons, growing the fruits in glass boxes where they take on the shape of the container.

***

Not knowing how I’d feel after teaching two classes and giving a reading on a diet of nothing but watermelon, I’d made no plans for afterward, but when the moment arrived it struck me as a sad thing to just slink home to be alone with my rinds. I spent many evenings in my own company, but the fast was leaving me with no hedge against loneliness.  Luckily, Eitan, another former student, was also at the reading; he’s someone I adore but almost never get a chance to spend time with.  He invited me to come over after the reading and I was grateful to accept.  In the slowly gathering evening, we walked to his apartment two blocks from the bookstore, which turned out to be crammed from end to end with his art collection, presided over by his two cats, Lyle and Eric.

I am someone who is almost always too busy, with a to-do list like the Hydra of Greek Mythology; every time I’d cross a task or project off the list, several more items would sprout in its place. This tends to give even social interactions a kind of frantic, breathless quality.  Not this evening; I had no place else to be.  With a bit of urging from me, Eitan agreed to give me a docent tour of his collection.  Although there is great variation of style and media, overall Eitan’s collection could be said to consist of “underground,” “lowbrow” or “outsider” art.  I keep thinking about a group of small sculptures, little scenes in miniature placed inside hollowed out gourds.  “These are made by a husband and wife,” Eitan was delighted to recount.  “He grows the gourds and hollows them out; she finds the little objects and paints everything.”  There was also, in one corner on a wire stand, the remnants of a dress he’d created entirely out of colorful plastic eggs for a long-ago Easter drag event; I remembered he’d been working on it when he was in my class.

Whether it was the state of my blood sugar or the resonance of the Death and Dying meditations from the night before, I found myself open and receptive to a thorough tour of Eitan’s collection; this included information about where he’d bought each piece, anything he happened to know about the artist, and sometimes background on the gallery or stories of how he came to purchase the piece. By the time we’d visited each of the four densely hung walls of the living room, night had descended.  I announced, apologetically, “I have to go home and lie down now.”  He completely understood and gallantly walked me to my car.

That night I did eat a little watermelon before going to bed.

***

In art about the Mexican holiday, El Dia de los Muertos, there are many images of watermelons being eaten by the dead.  Day of the Dead altars often include offerings of food for the departed.  In many Eastern, African and Native American cultures, people erect altars to the dead and provide food to sustain them in the next life.  These would be the dead who did not have knowledge of how to project one’s energy out the crown of the head, or who, in that last second, judged themselves and their lives.  In China, the Hungry Ghost Festival is a time for feeding the ancestors who have not escaped the material realm, who crave sustenance even though they cannot eat.

***

Day Three, the home stretch.  Since I’d felt so energetic the day before, I had big plans for the day.  I would of course go to the 6:30 a.m. yoga with my fellow fasters.  I also planned to go to my regular Sunday hatha yoga class at 11 a.m.  I intended to go to a reading by the poet William Archila in the late afternoon.  In addition, my friend, Linda, wanted me to meet her in Pasadena at a Green Expo to research environmentally friendly cars; another friend, Sasha, called to ask if I wouldn’t like to meet her later for a French film.  Everything seemed enticing and I believed I could do it all.

I was interested to note that Sada Simran had chosen this day for the most challenging yoga set of the three.  As she was coaxing us through the postures, she kept saying, “There’s nothing to fight; there’s nothing to resist.”  My body, less acidic than usual and thus more flexible, and stripped of the defenses that food helps it maintain, really couldn’t fight or resist; I didn’t have the energy.  I’ve gotten through much of my life by “powering through,” and surrender does not come easily to me.  But now, there was no viable alternative.

After class we again shared watermelon at the big table.  I was surprised when one of the women asked, “Can I keep going?” I couldn’t imagine adding even an additional hour to the fast; I was already fantasizing about what I was going to eat the next morning.  Sada Simran cautioned against continuing.  She said we could repeat the watermelon fast again in six weeks if the weather was still warm and we wanted to.

***

Researchers have found watermelon to be high in phyto-nutrients, compounds that occur naturally and help the human body to trigger healthy reactions.  Phyto-nutrients in watermelon include lycopene, an anti-oxidant that protects the human heart; beta carotene, found to support the immune system, improve vision, and fight cancer; and citrulline, which is thought to relax blood vessels, much like Viagra does, and enhance libido.

***

I walked out into the morning and drove home, my head still filled with plans for the day.  But by about 10 a.m. it became clear to me that I didn’t want to do any of the things I had envisioned.  I didn’t want to drive the freeways or be around people or take in a lot of stimulation. I had to laugh at my own tendencies—to undergo a rigorous process to produce a state of change and yet somehow expect that my habits would remain as they always were. On this third and final day of the watermelon fast, I felt light and porous, not solid enough to bomb around L.A.  I wanted to stay home.  And so, I did.

Though content with my choice, I did drift into melancholy in the afternoon, sad that Rose hadn’t called again to check on me.  I wished the watermelon fast could purge my desire for her attention, but instead it reminded me of my loneliness.  Of course, that loneliness did not begin with Rose, nor could her attentions take it away. That’s an illusion, but I still sometimes seek the comfort of such false beliefs.

***

In the Death and Dying workshop, Gurushabd didn’t talk about the tunnel of light than many in the West have used to describe the after death experience. Instead he said that as our consciousness leaves the physical body, we will find ourselves in a square, like a town square.  One side of it will feel brown and warm and familiar; there will be soft light and voices, like a welcoming tavern on a winter night.  The other side of the square will appear white and cold and austere, forbidding.  It is our human nature to be drawn toward warmth and comfort, but if we make this choice, we send our spirits back to earth, to wander as a Hungry Ghost until, eventually, we are reborn into human form.  If we want to transcend and not reincarnate, we need to choose to move in the direction of the cold, lonely light.  When you do this, Gurushabd said, “You will become light.”

***

Day 3 was also the day my poop turned pink.  By this I don’t mean that I produced a bowel movement that had strains of pink, as after one eats beets.  I mean that my poop, every bit of it, was the exact color of a tequila sunrise.  The same was true the following day.

I couldn’t help but report this to Sada Simran when I next saw her.  I was concerned it was “TMI” but she assured me that when one facilitates a cleanse, one hears a lot about poop.  But she’d never before heard of anyone whose poop turned pink.  “You must be really clean,” she said.

***

I wish I could remember what I ate when I broke the fast.  Quinoa, I think, maybe with some steamed greens.  I didn’t, as Sada Simran confessed she had once done, race out to McDonald’s at midnight on the last day.  But it also wasn’t too long before I was back eating my regular foods, hitting the snooze button at 4 a.m., and muttering to myself late at night. The fast did provide the impetus for giving up the vegan carob treats for good, which, I suppose, is not a bad result for a three-day investment.

Everyone wants to know what the fast did for me.  They anticipate an epiphany, a turning point in my life, a satisfying conclusion to this story.  But the truth is both more mundane and more profound than this.  The fast provided an opportunity to withdraw from my routine of external activities, to more deeply encounter my inner state, if not to transcend it.  It reminded me that I use food to numb and that loneliness is one of the conditions I medicate. Eating only watermelon allowed me to feel lighter, more permeable, and thus to better imagine what it might feel like to someday shed this physical shell, to return to spirit.  And, of course, it turned my poop pink.

***

My Kundalini Yoga teachers tell me that the angels envy the chance to be in a human body.  Only in human form can one experience the sensory world—the color of sunrise, the scent of jasmine on the night air, the heartbreaking warmth of a lover’s touch or the palpable ache of its absence.

Often I’ve longed to shuck the body, to free my spirit to float, weightless and undifferentiated, experience my energy connected to all energy.  Yet I am seduced again and again by the senses, by all-too-human attachments. When it is my time to die, I wonder, will I choose that icy path of light, become a soul beyond the human form?  Or will I let myself be pulled back to earth, back to body, back for a few more corn chips, another glimpse of art, another slice of watermelon, one more kiss?

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