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My skin is smooth, my belly flat, and every sensation from touch to sights and sounds is heightened.
If there is an opposite to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, this is it. At four in the morning, I wanted to go outside and sing with the robins. I settled for full-bodied waves of pleasure, feeling each breath caress my lungs, and letting the sheets hold me close.
I have just completed 24 days of consuming no more than 500 calories a day.
Today, 21 pounds lighter than when I started, I can eat more if I wish—but I’m free of the psychological drive to overeat. The idea that food will smooth out bumps in the the road seems as ludicrous as it used to seem true.
Fruit. I want fruit. Blueberries, cherries, and raspberries are waiting in the fridge—but there is no hurry. I can taste them from bed, exploding on my tongue and making me wiggle with excess energy and delight.
Looking around by morning light, I love the wall, the comforter, the breeze coming in the window, and the lazy approach Sunday morning offers.
I wasn’t fat when I began this diet, but I am thin now. Walking is easy—less air resistance, and I can watch my leg muscles flex. On a hike yesterday, I was astonished to discover that lean is a feeling—an openness to the ocean, the egrets, big yachts in the marina, and the smell of lobster coming from a small square shack where people were lathering tails in butter.
My friend, an emergency room doctor, swears by fasting, which he does a couple of days a week. But he is still thinking more than he is feeling, and he is curtailing his eating because he read about it in a book, not because of his own feedback from feelings. “It is good for me,” he says. (And that is very different than, “It feels good.”)
Perhaps sensations should be our guide in this life—and not just positive ones. Maybe we came here to feel the widest range of sensations possible; from heartbreak to elation, from the tender smoothness of a soufflé to the burn of a full bodied hot sauce, from the titillation of foreplay to the crescendo of orgasm.
So often—like when we were kids in school, or adults on an airplane, or any age with targets and agendas for work or exercise—we ignore our bodies. We forget—or even intentionally shut down—our nervous system feedback loops that would provide us vital data about our well-being.
Feelings, though often accurate, aren’t convenient in our deadline-and-goal-oriented, driven lives. But without them, we can find ourselves stressed, overworked, or under-pleasured.
The reason, if there is one, for this low-caloric odyssey is that upon returning home from a month and a half at a friends lake house, I couldn’t find my body. It appears that it refused to leave the morning dips, the candelabra-lit dinners on the vast front porch, watching eagles cut lazy circles in the sky, and the splashing of fish.
When I got home, I was all head. I missed the wisdom of my body and began over-exercising, eating, under-sleeping, and feeling homeless at home. Thankfully, the 500-calorie diet has me in my body again—and feeling, perhaps more than ever. My thoughts have shrunk into so much background chatter and then sweet silence.
The path to wisdom winds its way through our feet, legs, torso, up into our hearts, down and back up our arms, and finally—when we feel ourselves fully—to our heads and minds.
Our bodies ground us in the wisdom of being here now. Our heads stretch us like taffy into imaginary worlds, where we can sample the fantasy that minds thrive on.
Without attention focused on our bodies, our minds live in wonderland, where everything seems either worse or better than it really is.
Five hundred calories for nearly a month is an intense invitation back to the body. You don’t need anything that extreme.
Any contact with Mother Nature, be it walking through the forest, standing on the beach arms spread welcoming in the waves, watching the sunset, or listening to the frogs chirp reminds us that we are nature. Any time spent in nature reminds us that our bodies are part of nature, flowing with the seasons, dancing to the weather, and totally natural.
Exercise, if not over or underdone, can also bring us back to our bodies. The essence of balanced exercise is to listen carefully to your body. Bodies like extremes, and minds like consistency. A friend of mine runs fairly slowly and always at the same pace. He trances out while running and doesn’t feel a thing. Covering the same distance by alternately jogging, sprinting, and walking makes him a changed man. His body lights up welcoming the variation and revealing his spry unpredictable self.
Rest too invites our bodies from their mind driven stupors. I’m experimenting with the idea that all doing is just spots of paint on a canvass of rest. Like so many others, I used to judge my value by what I got done. Now I do so by the quality of my rest.
Watching a lion in the wild, their lives are spent lounging, with occasional hunts or chases. The same is so for most animals. We have strayed from that natural intelligence and become so busy that we have forgotten ourselves.
Adopt rest as a motif from which activities arise, rather than immersing yourself in work until you are too tired to make a meringue or love. Punctuate your rest motif with activities your mind imagines need to be done and your body enjoys.
Any attention focused on our bodies lights us up, reminds us to be present, makes for better sex, and satisfies us from the inside out. Heck, often when we are doing nothing, we are also taking great care of ourselves, inspiring our natural enthusiasm and curiosity, and enhancing our wisdom.
I’ve gotta go eat some fruit. Thanks for reading this blog—and please, in the comments section, share your own “secrets” for returning attention to your body and living a grounded, rewarding life.