Religion & Beliefs

Blogging the Cleanse #2: Just Like Beyonce

I feel like Oprah Winfrey. 48 hours without food, and I must've dropped five pounds already. More, probably — I don't actually own a scale. And all this with only slight mental discombobulation, a few confused numbers and lapses of … Read More

By / April 23, 2007

I feel like Oprah Winfrey. 48 hours without food, and I must've dropped five pounds already. More, probably — I don't actually own a scale. And all this with only slight mental discombobulation, a few confused numbers and lapses of cognitive function? Sign me up.

Actually, I found out today that Beyonce Knowles and Robin Quivers (of Howard Stern fame) have each done the Master Cleanse, which I started yesterday morning. First Kabbalah and now this — it seems like each New Age path I pursue has already been trod by a diva. Is this a gay thing?

It is remarkable, really, how little nutrition we really need to survive. I love food; though I keep kosher and thus restrict my diet somewhat, within those bounds I'm an amateur gourmet. I cook French, South American, Southeast Asian; I eat out a lot. But I've always assumed that at the heart of my gastronomic adventures lies a basic human need: to be fed. But aside from a few moments of fatigue — most of which are attributable to not religiously drinking my Cayenne/Maple Lemonade; if I stop drinking for half an hour, I start to get woozy — I've really been doing fine. Yes, my sex drive is down, I'm not running around Central Park, and I start to fade around 8:00 in the evening, but hours can go by without my even noticing that the fast is happening.

I should say a little more about the Master Cleanse, and about my motivations; I don't want to give the impression that it's purely adventure on my part. The Master Cleanse, in the form I'm following it, was pioneered in 1976 by alternative health pioneer Stanley Burroughs. It is mostly about purging the body from toxins, and there are all kinds of New Agey theories about how that works and why it's important. But as anyone who's ever fasted on Yom Kippur knows, depriving the body of nutrition also affects the mind and heart, and this is where, for me, it begins to get more interesting. I find that when I fast, there's less energy for multitasking, lots of rational thought, anxiety, and running around. I become more patient, more yielding. I literally can't be bothered. And many other people report insights, openings, even realizations. This is really why a lot of people, to some extent myself included, go to all this effort. At least on the level of the mind, it does work.

As with psychedelics, going without food can also bring on a side-show of hallucinations and visions, though I've never fasted long enough to see any. But, as with psychedelics, the main event is not the bells and whistles but the shifting of the mind that takes place when it's not so easily carried away by ephemera of scheduling and plans. Simply put, I find that I like myself more when I'm fasting, and, in addition to the curiosity I described in yesterday's entry, I am partly doing this to experiment with being the kindler, gentler Jay for an extended period. Meditation is still my primary path — I find seven days of silent retreat more emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually clarifying (not the same thing as deluding, exciting, relaxing, or inspiring — here's an article I wrote on that subject a couple ofyears ago) than just about anything else I know. But I am interested in exploring some of that usefully altered state within my ordinary life.

Even during last week's run-up to the Master Cleanse, it was clear to me that exotic nutritional practices are scarcely different from obsessive eating disorders. Are my adzuki beans both organic and locally grown? Has my distilled spring water absorbed toxins from its plastic bottle? It's really exactly like kashrut, another borderline-OCD food behavior which requires equal parts diligence and chilling out — or maybe unequal parts. As with kashrut, I found myself judging people for eating unhealthily (i.e., normally), giving myself guilt over little slips of discipline, and exceeding the advice even of my nutritionist, who, to her credit, is quite accepting of little indulgences.

In the last two days, the distinction between myself and the normally eating world has grown more stark. I'm not just keeping vita-kosher; I've become a vita-monk. And so I've become less tempted by, and judgmental of, the ordinary world. I did have to go to a cocktail party last night (my editor at the Forward just launched her new book), and I felt a bit melancholy walking across Central Park during picnic season. But in general, this rather total renunciation is easier than being of the world, but apart from it. And it's not like I'm living in a cave. Today, I took my nephew to the park to play football, drove up to my house upstate to check in on some renovation work, and even had a long conversation with my editor here at Jewcy over an essay I'm told is being published tomorrow. I'm just not eating anything.

There's more to say, but I need to leave something for tomorrow. Besides, do you really want to hear about the effects of a "Salt Water Flush" laxative?

Maybe you do, and maybe I'll tell you. Or maybe not. Tune in tomorrow.