Gastronomy of the soul / Gastronomy de l'âme
A diary of my 14 days fast
Journal en Francais sur le site suivant:
Day 1 - Departure
"Know Thyself" Socrates
That's it !
This moment I have been waiting for two years is finally here - I am entering a two-week fast for therapeutic purposes - try to totally heal my autoimmune disease and detoxify my body – as well as spiritual - look at my inner self face to face, live without dependence and the most difficult of all: be ... without doing.
I leave my sweet home and beautiful family drowsy after an early departure. What could be seen as egoism will I hope prove to be altruism: it is by knowing oneself that one can fully open to others.
Like a ghost I cross the airport, a place so remote to poetry, assaulted by advertisements from all sides, a kind of condensed version of all the consumerist vices of our time - the pinnacle perhaps remaining the duty-free zone lit by artificial lights that offer rows of standardized products where creative energy is close to non-existent.
Having booked a ticket with my remaining loyalty miles, the hostess calls me by my name and asks what I think of the trip to improve the quality of their services. Politely I tell her that everything is going well. Yet and without any regret I cannot help but think that this world that I belonged to for 16 years, made of business class trips around the globe, is no more. I know that an infinitely richer world is here: finding its inner wisdom, reconnecting to beautiful Mother Nature, to the people I love tenderly. The smell of coffee and chocolate breads offered by the company barely tempts me - I know anyway that the bread is not fresh and is full of industrial refined sugar and flour. I rather prefer turning towards the infinite sea of clouds standing below me, under the gaze of the moon finishing its night.
Day 2 - La pensée sauvage
"There, there’s only order, beauty: abundant, calm, voluptuous." Baudelaire
Perched on the cliffs of the Vercors’, la pensée sauvage (the wild thinking) - name given to the sanatorium where I will be staying a week - is one of these privileged places with a 180 ° view on the mountains of the Drôme region at the foot of the Alps. The gaze lost far on the horizon, clouds dancing with the high summits around us, effortlessly and as every time I find myself in mountains, I feel aspired by the sublime of the place, caught by the might of the surroundings, my tiny ego fading before what one might call the divine.
Thomas and Maëly's detox center - in addition to its extraordinary location - is meticulously taken care of. Everything is done to welcome clients gracefully: exotic scents, fragrant herbal teas, fresh fruit juices, and friendly staff. Several terraces and salons are available to let ourselves go to the charms of the place. A yurt placed at the end of the garden gives an oriental touch to the overall harmony. A little fear titillates me which will even come and haunt my dreamy night: agoraphobic for some years, the group made of nearly 20 people seems quite big for someone who usually favours individual relationships and tend to flee the mass. I'm in a nightclub, everyone around me is drunk and noisy. The end of the evening comes and I enter a kind of laid-back minivan full of the same people enjoying the end of their party - overwhelmed by the smell of cigarette, sweat and alcohol ... I wake up at 4am in the morning and will not return to sleep. Follows a voluptuous day enjoying the beauty of the place, a superb 14 km stroll - that to my surprise most of the group finished without any problem. The sensation of hunger is more than compensated by all the occupations we are having.
Day3 - The group
"The slightest joy opens on an infinite" C. Bobin
The fast is taking place wonderfully, with only few sensations of hunger from time to time. Pampered as we are, we do not have time to think about it: wake up at 7:30 am with a melodious song followed by a lota (a kind of plastic canister containing salt water that the faster pour into one nostril to see it ... come out of the other nostril a few seconds later - it is apparently cleansing the sinuses and is important for good oxygenation), body awakening session (kind of light yoga), taking blood pressure, measuring our weight then follows at everyone’s will (everything is optional) a 6 minutes mouth wash with sunflower oil (it helps to eliminate the toxins accumulating on the tongue). The 3 naturopaths there prescribe us some essential oils and other elixirs ingested according to the needs of each other. Then we go for a hike of about 4h ( a dozen or so kilometres), the bulk of the group managing to walk for the most part and only the most valiant - a dozen - going all the way. Back to the center we are welcomed by a body relaxation, followed by treatments of all kinds: osteopathy, massages of all sorts, acupuncture, hot stones, hammam, foot bath, sauna, etc. At 7:30 pm, a bouillon is served around a large table, an opportunity for everyone to share their experiences of the day. Finally, the evening takes place around a lecture that is always very educational: fasting, nutrition, etc. I almost have a bad feelings for being here: leaving Agi my wife trimming alone with the 3 kids at home whereas I am pampering myself in a debauchery of luxurious care. In fact, under such conditions, fasting becomes quite easy and even very pleasant (including the first days that are supposed to be the most demanding): occupied all day we do not really have time to think about food deprivation or changes which occur in our bodies. In addition we all came here with a detailed guidance on what to eat and not to eat the few days before starting, becoming vegan for the last 2 days. That also helps our bodies to adapt to the absence of food.
The group is made up of people from all over France, ranging from 22 years of age for the youngest to the sixties or more for the eldests. For the vast majority, it is all fairly affluent people who have all "succeeded" their business life: business owners, real estate developers, consultants of all kinds, restaurants and hotels managers. For 1400 Eur the week (without food!) and 80 eur on average for each extra care (massage, etc) not everyone can afford to take a full week off to come here. Clients have the choice between three "menus": total fast (with the evening bouillon), juice-fast (couple of juices throughout the day) or even a gourmand fast made of two frugal and vegan meals per day. Most of us opted for the first and second. Everyone is here for various reasons, some for the 2nd or 3rd time and beyond a few pounds to lose they are mostly looking for some inner introspection and would like to disconnect from their daily hectic lives and worries, and for some even freeing themselves from their own evils - psychic or physical. As I had noticed during my previous long fast, a group creates positive energies, supporting those who have times of doubt and difficulty to go through the storm. Last night as we were gathered around the daily bouillon “the angel” asked us to tell a happy anecdote we lived through the day. It was very touching to listen to each one of us, to be moved by their little joys stolen from the guardians of eternity: contemplating the sunrise, listening to the celestial voice waking us up, admiring the splendid landscapes of Vercors (which are truly breath-taking), watching a herd of chamois hopping on the slopes or simply feeling the attention of friends and other fasters helping to go through difficult moments.
Day 4 - The Angel
"Poetic language reaches the heart of one who knows how to listen to it. » Attar
Ebony black curls illuminate his swarthy face, his smile reveals large ivory teeth, small and agile his role is to guide our steps during our daily hikes, every day in search of new enchanting itineraries. The angel is naturally ubiquitous: sometimes he is in front of the group opening the trail and pacing the adequate rhythm, sometimes at the back to accompany the most tired, sometimes he comes from nowhere playing biblical notes with his celestial flute perched on a tree or in the middle of a green meadow. The angel possesses the knowledge of the gods. He can name each tree, flower, fruit, shrub, knows their therapeutic virtues and practical use, he tells us the millennial geology of the place showing giant shell fossils. He knows all the animals around him and how to approach them closely. To everyone’s delight we observed chamois, deer, wild boars, snakes, vultures and wild horses. In the evening by the fire, the angel tells us some ancient tales that we all listen to like little kids. Through his truculent stories he teaches us wisdom.
It is interesting to note that the most extraordinary beings like the angel are in general so little valued by our society whereas “the great men” of this world - politicians, businessmen, dogmatic scholars - do not seem to reach the angel's ankle so occupied as they are with their "serious stuff". Of Maghreb-Mexican origins his name means Generosity in Arabic and Love in Spanish. His name is Amar, he is raising our days to sacred heights.
Day 5 - Fasting, gastronomy of the mind
"What the eyes are for the outer world, fasts are for the inner" Gandhi
The origin of fasting is lost in the mists of time. It is easy to imagine our prehistoric ancestors compelled to not eating several days long, hunting down a herd of beasts, fleeing a warlike tribe or in the face of weather hazards. All spiritual traditions then established fasting as an integral part of a journey – we have all heard about Yom-Kippur, Ramadan and Lent – and the same goes for the Easterners and Amerindians. Nowadays fasting is frightening - the great wars and famines that have led some of our grandparents to starving remain in our memories. The medical profession is generally hostile to it: one does not deprive himself of energy to get better. Religions have themselves watered down their fasts to satisfy the needs of our over-consuming societies. And yet, contrary to popular belief, fasting has phenomenal power. Died in 1966 Dr. Otto Buchinger (to whom I owe the title of this diary) has fasted thousands of people in his constant lake sanatorium (which still operates and flourishes). To the question what fasting can cure Dr Buchinger answers "ask me rather what fasting can’t cure! These are just a few diseases: tuberculosis, hyperthyroidism, advanced cancer ".
The brain and the intestine (through digestion) are the biggest consumers of glucose in our body - over 80% of energy is geared to those. With the intestine at rest only the brain remains to be fed. Human bodies have large reserves of proteins (mainly muscle) and of fat (especially in western societies) however our glucose reserves – those giving energy - are very limited: enough to hold 4 hours with reserves in the blood and a day or so with reserves in our liver.
So where does the body take its glucose after the first day? Initially, the liver and muscle proteins are transformed into glucose, this lasts for not even a couple of days. Then the body draws the fat contained in our tissues (belly, bottom, etc) and transforms it into ketone bodies (we can’t convert fat into glucose) which act as glucose energy-wise. These early days can be bumpy to live, being so used to stuff our bodies 3 times a day. Moreover we can easily be subject to some headaches, nausea or other psychological symptoms which don’t last very long. In parallel, the rate of happiness hormones (like the serotonin – the same one secreted when eating chocolate and ... taking ecstasy) increases in our blood. Finally, when the fat burning phase is well established, the ketone bodies come to nourish our brain and sharpen our senses. Despite the privations all these effects give the faster a general state of well-being, even euphoria. His clearer mind is more inclined to focus on the present moment and becomes more effective. In average a faster loses about 200g of fat per day (once in the fat-burning phase, and more before that): fat being so caloric that it takes little to feed our body and mind. It is said that someone weighing 70kg for 1m70 - that is to say with about 10kg of fat excess - can fast for about 40 days!
Many different animals also use this mechanism regularly: penguin, bear, marmot, migratory bird to name a few. Fasting remains psychologically (and logistically) very difficult to conceive within our consumerist society, not to mention the dubious or even hostile look of our peers – overall it does require a lot of goodwill to embark on such an adventure . Here are a few famous fasters: Jesus Christ of course, Siddhartha, Gandhi who practiced regularly and more recently Hollywood stars fond of the 5/2 (2 days of fasting per week that is). The BBC has broadcasted fairly recently a good documentary on the topic: Eat, Fast and Live Longer (many other mainstream papers have written on that same topic, in line with the latest scientific evidences which all converge towards the same incredible benefits).
Day 6 - Spiritual Master
"For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 14
I contracted my disease about 7 years ago, it will take almost a year to be able to give it a name: Colitis Ulcerosa, an incurable auto-immune disease. I was prescribed drugs, 2 grams per day, for life. I must say that the drug greatly calmed my symptoms - especially that of constantly going to the loo with all kinds of colours and textures. The biggest symptom remained my excessive fatigue: tired of meeting people, of traveling, of spending too much time with my 3 kids, of exercising in excess. My lifestyle had to change…drastically. From the merry chap I was, always the first to have a drink, the last to stay at parties, running half marathons, playing Rugby - third half included, organizing receptions and lavish dinners at home, from all this there is nearly nothing left. Step by step. I learned asceticism and measure. It was a painful journey, thinking that the world I lived in before was the essence of a good Life
Going to bed early, drinking no or very little alcohol and much less coffee, stopping any industrial dishes, not going to parties anymore, becoming vegetarian, practicing Yoga regularly, meditation, running frequently albeit at a moderate pace, favouring cultural events, listening to (not just hearing) music more frequently, spending more time with the family – all those became the ingredients of my new life. What began six years ago as a living nightmare proved to be a gift from heaven. I left behind pleasures that could be intense but proved futile and instead refocused on the basics of life. I opened my senses to what was invisible to me before: to contemplate the beauty of a landscape, a flower, a ray of sunshine, a face. I began to choose my friends - a handful only - not in order to spend time to talk about everything (and nothing), but to promote deeper exchanges in the discovery of our hearts, and souls. I rediscovered my children and all the joy these little wonders carry with them. In many respects these little angels know much more than I do about wisdom and living the present moment with full joy.
I learned some kind of humility - synonymous with lucidity. I looked more closely at different philosophical and spiritual traditions, in the perpetual and rewarding yet never satiated quest to what one could call Truth. Yes, I believe that my illness is a spiritual master. As if I had fallen asleep in a jungle and a friend came to give me a strong slap in order to wake me up before dangers arise. My illness was this friend.
Day 7 & 8 - Transition
" Home Sweet Home "
I am quite excited to enter my second week of fasting. Tomorrow is the 9th day, I am now sailing under unchartered waters (my previous fast was only 8 days). My stay at La pensée sauvage was wonderful, pampered as we were in an extraordinary environment, but as a frequent faster I felt some slight unease with so much attention given and the background hubbub inherent to any group life.
Etymologically subtle means "beneath the weave", said otherwise it is the invisible layer that makes the waving of a fabric. Subtle could be opposed to “useful”, a word which is much more concrete, material, objective, and quantitative. Contemplation, invisibility, beauty, silence, love are all subtle notions and contrasting with the useful. For a balanced life we should try to make the most of both: usefulness allows us to subsist materially with more or less comfort, and subtlety teaches us the very essence of life - a source of joy, creativity, love. The great evil of the western world is probably that it has largely deviated from the subtle focusing more on the useful: we are too busy counting, growing (GDP being of the ultimate avatars), accumulating, quantifying, possessing, having ... rather than just being. Even the concept of "well-being" sold everywhere in various wellness centers is taken as a good to consume: utopia of remaining perpetually young, utility of making the most of our machine-like bodies. Fortunately there are poets, philosophers, saints, artists and sages - they have an intimate knowledge with the subtle, they are the real guides of humanity.
I think that what has touched me most in the testimony of these 17 fasters is that this week has allowed us to touch a little more of the subtle, to take a step back - not to mention the relaxed faces freed from any stress or anxiety we were all wearing as well as the almost miraculous blood pressure drops for some. But cultivating the subtle takes effort and perseverance and I fear that a week from time to time in “well-being” mode is not enough. For this purpose I am not dissatisfied to find myself as lonely as a hermit in a small peasant house of a charming village of Lake Balaton. Introspection shall begin. The transition from the Vercors to Hungary was very smooth. Against all expectations no excessive fatigue despite my late arrival at home and an early wake-up by my 3 little wonders. They barely noticed my 5 kg weight loss. The only notable difference that my son noticed seems to be the bouillon smell emanating from my body! What a pleasure to be home, to kiss them all, to play a little with them and there I am on my way to my hermitage. My health is great, the blood check done quickly this morning before leaving Budapest is flawless, I feel full of vitality, I barely moved to the many culinary temptations surrounding the city and managed to navigate easily my multiple connections - plane, train and bus - with my 10kg back pack.
Day 9&10 - Weariness
"The forces of nature in us are the true healers of diseases. »Hippocrates
This first day in my hermitage was by far the most difficult. I can only sympathize with some of my fellow fasters of last week. It all started feeling tired after a weary awakening. I took a walk around the village, welcomed by a grey sky and a chilled breeze I then decide to go back to sleep. Second awakening around 10am - the transition from France to here seem to have stressed me more than I thought. Some body exercises to wake me up. My mouth has never been so pasty with an unpleasant taste of metal - a sign that detoxification is at his peak (toxins are evacuated by urine, perspiration but also by the tongue). I make a mouthwash with some sunflower oil (not a very pleasant taste) in order to remove all the toxins, brush my teeth at length, but nothing changes. And here I am on a walk for about 14km. With a slow pace I walk through the hills of Balaton. Spring here has barely begun, all I see is hibernated trees and dead leaves. The depth and diversity of the Vercors’ is a stark contrast with the hills of Balaton. I am very thirsty despite 2 litres already drunk. I'm hungry. It's cold. Walking upwards is an effort and I feel that my body is looking for energy (it had not happened to me once in Vercors where I even surprised myself accelerating in the roughest climbs). I know it is difficult for Agi to be alone with the 3 kids. Why am I here? Is it not pure selfishness? Or even worse fleeing reality? I spend a few hours studying Naturopathy, go for a good night sleep and am now back on my feet. I gained from my first long fast last year to be able to free myself from my medications and greatly reduce my excessive fatigue. It is a victory that is priceless and I am extremely proud of it. Many sick people prefer to vegetate with so reassuring drug pills rather than try to take control their health - I think in a way I understand them, it takes such a willingness and openness to want to get out of this vicious circle.
Traditional medicine - called allopathic medicine - does not really look at the causes, only symptoms are of any interest and how to attenuate the consequences by absorbing chemical drugs. Our medical system is made in such a way that doctors live from the disease - a healthy society would be a catastrophe for them. In addition pharmaceutical multinationals flood us with numerous advertising slogans and constantly lobby the medical body with their chemicals that only inflict more pain on the long run (autoimmune diseases but also allergies, autism, cancers and many others have been rising dramatically over the past decades) and to close the vicious circle, our social security encourages us to enter this macabre dance by taking in charge the exorbitant cost of the poison.
There is another medicine, that of Hippocrates, of Chinese or Ayurvedic medicine which considers that our best doctor is ourselves and that the symptoms are in general the consequences of a deeper evil, a lost harmony between our bodies and minds. Those are holistic medicines which consider that the harmony of the soul as a whole necessitates each part to run smoothly - body included (the words “health” and “whole” both have the same root). Of course, it is not a question of denigrating traditional medicine, which has made great strides (viruses and antibiotics in the lead), but rather of combining the two and realizing that we are the main players to influence our health - far more than our doctors. Making a fast of 14 days is part of this quest. A first step has been taken, and perhaps a second step will be taken at the end of these 14 days - no more symptoms, no more fatigue, a digestive system free from inflammation, an immune system able to manage itself. Those are the main reasons for my presence here and it gives me great courage.
Day 11 - Wandering
“Good morning,” said the little prince.
“Good morning,” said the merchant.
This was a merchant who sold pills that had been invented to quench thirst. You need only swallow one pill a week, and you would feel no need of anything to drink.
“Why are you selling those?” asked the little prince.
“Because they save a tremendous amount of time,” said the merchant. “Computations have been made by experts. With these pills, you save fifty-three minutes in every week.”
“And what do I do with those fifty-three minutes?”
“Anything you like . . .”
“As for me,” said the little prince to himself, “if I had fifty-three minutes to spend as I liked, I should walk at my leisure toward a spring of fresh water.” A. Saint-Exupery
When you take a close look at waters, you find that it is very difficult to find "pure" water. Tap water? Often contaminated by pesticides, pollutants and heavy metals spilled by rainwaters. Bottled water? Plastic bottles contain a lot of toxic substances that are transmitted to water, and the plastic container ends up buried underground or even worse at the bottom of the oceans – an ecological disaster in both cases (not to mention the carbon footprint to manufacture, store and transport the bottles). Mineral water? The minerals contained in the water are dead! So it's not minerals that the system will assimilate. On the other hand too little minerals are not good either, the pure liquid flowing through our body makes a sort of mineral depression... which empties the good minerals contained in our cells. Hmmm, so what is left? The best solution probably consists of installing a filter at your tap (the so-called reverse osmose filter - apparently the best).
Still, I am in my hermitage drinking 3 liters of tap water a day. Having heard of a well-known water source not far from here, I borrow the bicycle of the house in search of the elixir of life. Vagabonding through the picturesque villages of the Kali basin, escorted by a swarm of illuminated buttercups, inhaling a fresh spring breeze whose warm sun rays are felt deep inside (digestion being at rest we tend to be quite cold during a fast), I feel like I am flying. Arriving at the source, I walk very slowly, watch the water slowly flow out, take time to observe it, to feel it then drink sip by sip, each of them spreading through my body with renewed energy. On the way back I wander around, passing by the lake I love so much and its turquoise waters, observing fishers, having a little nap laying on the fresh grass under the sun, reading a few pages of poetry. Herons, deer, swans, ducks, horses, buffaloes, and goats come and accompany me for this beautiful day that make me happy to be here. Unintentionally I will have cycled around for around 35km - without ever being tired, weak or short of breath (I keep an apple in my bag in case): the ketone bodies are surprisingly effective. I quickly fall asleep rocked by thousand and one dreams - of which curiously I will remember a good deal the following morning.
Day 12&13 - Elevation
"Above the lakes, above the vales, The mountains and the woods, the clouds, the seas, Beyond the sun, beyond the ether, Beyond the confines of the starry spheres,
My soul, you move with ease, And like a strong swimmer in rapture in the wave You wing your way blithely through boundless space With virile joy unspeakable." Baudelaire
Wednesday and Thursday passed in the small garden of my charming hermitage, bordered on one side by an ageless stone wall sparse with ruffled ferns and on the other side the faded wall of the house. Nurtured by brother sun, I alternate yoga sessions, meditations, learning my naturopathic courses, writing and editing my diary - even without meals to prepare the day is just flying. Perhaps due to the many walks and strolls or a reflux of detoxification coming or maybe just letting it go: I slept for ten hours the last 3 nights. I do not know my weight but watching myself in the mirror I can see that my body is really thinner: I do not have much fat around my bones. Not necessarily very aesthetic but it is not the goal of my fast - and it gets back pretty quickly anyway (I think it is the first time in my life that I can see my abdominal muscles!). I hardly feel hungry. The amazing ketone bodies are fully working. I manage to concentrate for several hours on my courses without blinking an eye and can feel that my psychic energy has multiplied tenfold. In ordinary times a meditation session is always a bit laborious, constant struggle against the thoughts arising out of nowhere: rethinking the past, making scenarios for the future. Here is different, I remain an hour in quasi-levitation: my spirit escapes and sails towards unknown horizons through the waves of my subconscious. I believe that the Elevation of Baudelaire is a beautiful allegory to describe the state in which I find myself.
Day 14 - Take-aways
"Life is a journey not a destination" Emerson
My 14 days fast is finishing - today is the last day. I feel that my body is not as reactive as usual, I move quite slowly as an elderly person would do. After practising my daily routine of yoga and meditation, I do a bit of naturopathy and then ride my bike to do a little exercise and give a last farewell to the lake. Like the previous day my mind has incredible propensities to rise on to other spheres - I spend the afternoon in ecstasy before the beauty of the lake made smooth like a mirror by the absence of a breeze and contemplate the scenery of nature unfolding under the arch of the Sun. On the way back, I am completely moved by the spectacle of the falling sun rays burning the pink Japanese cherry trees, as well as by the multi-coloured, multifaceted and fragrant flowers that bloomed these last few days, two young deer standing still in front of a bush next to me seem to be interrogating destiny, the random flight of a butterfly dancing his life, the charm of these old peasant houses enhanced by the age and tinted in red by the setting sun.
Tomorrow I will go home and hug my loved ones again. I will start feeding again, gently - first juices, soups, fruits and vegetables so as not to rush the intestine made fragile. I will go back to my daily life and daily routine that I cherish so much. What conclusion to draw from this retreat? Is my illness healed? Was I able to explore my subconscious? It is, of course, too early to answer these questions, and after all it may not matter ... Our lives impose obligations on us - father, husband, professional, societal, family and other – our goal is to fulfil these obligations the best we can while cultivating the beauties life has to offer. Hindus believe that not everyone can access sainthood in his life, according to the principle of reincarnation they think that one day in another life we will reach this awakening. I probably prefer this way of thinking to the Christian one where we all have the vocation to be a saint. One way to define wisdom could be a maximum happiness for a maximum lucidity. Our goal in life is to cultivate wisdom as best we can and plant seeds that will serve future generations.
In many ways this fasting will have made me stronger - knowing that I can stay 2 weeks without eating is not a small thing. Enjoying the silence, feeling the effects of these magical bodies (ketones) and the happiness hormones, leaving his ego aside, opening all its senses. All this would have brought me closer to reality: every ordinary moment becomes for whoever knows how to look at it an extra-ordinary moment - that is the Kingdom: it is here and now. May I use this strength to embellish a little more my life and that of my surroundings.