I recently returned from what was meant to be eleven days at a Thai monastery. I shaved my head, slept on a concrete slab, fasted for 18 hours of the day, and spent the good part of the day seated in the lotus position - in silence. It was hard core.
My epiphany came on day 4, but it was only on day 8 that I took action - and broke out. And what was this grand epiphany? That life is too short - and that it’s time we got on with it.
We think we have infinite amounts of time, that it will be years before we die - but how do we know? And how do we know whether we’ll be in good health as that time draws nearer?
We live as if we’re never going to die, but how many of us really live? What would you do differently if you had just a year to live? A month? What about a few days?
And so, after eight grueling days, I quit - and I never quit anything. I’m the kind of person who squeezes out every last smidgeon of toothpaste.
Life is just too short to sleep on a wooden pillow and have no human beings for a meaningful connection (not to mention, having nothing to write on).
But isn’t life also too short to follow some ghastly, dietary programme, to manage heart disease or reverse diabetes?
This is where the Buddhists have some great insight, what they call “the middle way”. It’s all about striking balance. And how do we do that? Simple: by doing what brings us joy.
Rather than running away from our specific ailment, we run towards what we want in our lives. It’s a method I had already been using with patients before I’d gone away.
It’s not about managing (and often even completely curing) chronic ailments by resorting to a restrictive, not to mention miserable, way of life. It’s about expanding your mindset to incorporate a way of living that you had not considered before. It’s about letting go of the things that you thought you couldn’t do without.
The Buddhists tell us that its the sensual pleasures (of which food is one) that get humans into trouble. While I would be inclined to agree, I don’t see why we can’t call a spade a spade and get to eat our cake too.
We don’t live in a society where we eat to live, but we don’t need to be ruled by our senses either. All we need to do is strike a balance - something that most of us just don’t want to do. It’s difficult, it’s messy and it gets us right out of our comfort zones – but as you all know, this is where the real magic happens.