In Ayurvedic practice, fall is an opportune season to gently cleanse. Unlike a spring cleanse, which focuses on removing toxins built up over the winter, its autumn sister is all about strengthening digestion and metabolism to help us prepare for the colder, more sedentary season ahead.
Strengthening happens when we gather our energy back into our own centers from its tendency to go wandering all over the place, which we can call FOMO or computer-generated ADHD or monkey mind. Turning inwards sounds easy, but it can’t usually happen until we do something both significant and temporary that helps us decrease, or at least qualitatively shift, our consumption. By tuning down the velocity of ingestion, we find we can better taste particular flavors — the intuitive ingredients that helps us find our way into just desserts — our purpose and place within the world.
In his book Silence, Thich Nhat Hanh (the Zen monk who was nominated to the Nobel Peace Prize by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.) argues that we should not just look at food we eat, but what he calls “sensory food” when looking to shift our habitual patterns of consumption. Sensory food includes “what we take in with our senses and our mind—everything we see, smell, touch, taste, and hear. External noise falls into this category, such as conversations, entertainment, and music. What we read and the information we absorb is also sensory food. Perhaps even more than edible food, the sensory food we consume affects how we feel.”
Just this morning, a friend emailed to say that she had deactivated her facebook account because she needed “to step back from life distractions and focus more on inner work.” This isn’t to say that inner work precludes an attention to the other — in my own life, the best inner has happened with the support of a beloved community — but so many of us are finding out all over again, that we need our circles to be more intentional, less social-swarming.
My first sensory food detox coincided with my first season of consistent yoga practice, about 20 years ago. I always have loved the feeling of a leisurely morning, holding a mug of coffee around its trunk, the liquid heat entering the soft underbelly of my hand directly, it seemed, into my heart. In the other hand, the whooshing sound of the newspaper as it swished from story to story, neighborhood to enclave to character, on its best days, opening up the possibility for me to choose a different way to live my own life.
Perhaps because of my yoga practice which invites us to notice absolutely everything, despite myself I began to observe my sunrise reverie was interrupted — more frequently than not — by a rising anger at the industry which had gotten less investigative, more headline-grabbing. The daughter of a printer who would often read two or three newspapers each day, I would never had imagined not reading a daily paper. But after several experiments with newspaper detoxing, I discovered that there was indeed better sources of news, and my own ability to critique had to do a great deal with maintaining my fundamental nature of curiosity rather than slipping into the comfort of easy cynicism.
In her bestselling book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying , Maria Kondo proposes a radical decluttering protocol that is both very strict (no more than 30 books! all clothes must be folded like so!) and exuberant. She writes:
The process of assessing how you feel about the things you own, identifying those that have fulfilled their purpose, expressing your gratitude, and bidding them farewell, is really about examining your inner self, a rite of passage to a new life…
Two of Kondo’s big ideas are:
- Focus more on what you want to keep rather than what you can live without. She says “the question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.” Therefore hold each item close to you and ask if it “sparks joy” — not if its functional or brings back memories or a smart thing to hold onto.
- Your inanimate objects deserve your gratitude. When you take off your crimson cowboy boots and put them in their spot in the closet, thank them for protecting your feet and making you feel bad-ass. Thank your keys for getting you home safe and your cell for allowing you to tell your mom you love her. Thank the scarf you wore every day over three winters straight for giving you warmth — and then put in a bag for Goodwill. You might find yourself less envious of other people’s stuff when you take time to realize your own shit is so awesome.
This time of year, we cleanse to strengthen. By cleansing our belongings, by narrowing that which we consume through the sense doors of vision and hearing and taste and touch, we may begin to feel life flowing in a new, unobstructed way. We may decide to bring a jasmine plant into our living room, so we can smell sweetness as we curl up to a good novel in our favorite flannel pjs, or to paint that white wall tangerine orange or create a space in our home with a large easel and no clock. We may decide, as one of my coaching clients did earlier this week, to start studying something new, and while she’s at it, to shore up her finances before she quits that job that was once exactly what she aspired to; after a cleanse, she saw her colleagues and bosses and realized: Not Me.
(By the way, yes, I’ve tidied up my clothes. And — as a Jew (and teacher), I can’t imagine having only 30 books, but I have twiddled down my collection by about 50, placing novels I’ll never read again in a free library. My personal journals, I can’t yet bare to touch. It’s not about perfection, but about clarity, and I’m hoping that my fall cleanse will give me more of that.)
Friends, may you be clean and clear and strong as an ox as we enter this season of soup and cocoa. If I can support you as you go through your process, please be in touch! And if you want to plan ahead and go straight into tropical fantasies, consider joining me in February on the Mexican coast.