By Ali Valdez
October mid-month, obligatory mala shopping led me to a small jewel shop off the beaten path, a dusty back road in Rajasthan. The interpreter-chauffeur-tea baron-spice czar tried to explain to the young men behind the glass display cases exuberantly turning on the overhead lights and cranking on the humming AC that we weren’t in the market for fine jewels. Obvious American indicators, we were yoga students merely on the hunt for mala beads which apparently isn’t such an easy feat on a casual shopping jaunt. In denial, they zealously pulled out display cases, heavily encouraging my students to sample bangles and earrings.
One thing that you learn when hosting a retreat in an exotic locale is that you must allot ample time for shopping as this truly matters to even the most spiritually footed yogini. Our malas momentarily forgotten, people obliged and eagerly feasted on the artisanal fruits of the local laborers. Once the feeding frenzy whipped up to a fever pitch, the door from the back office made a sound.
Opening the door, the owner made his way out to observe the melee; although everyone else was buying as I sat playing games on my phone, he honed in directly on me taking a seat eye to eye on the opposite side of the counter with a laser intensity.
“Only looking for mala beads” he looks deeply into my eyes. On the offensive, I fire back “yes, we are not going to be buying jewelry today. Only malas if you can help us.”
His resolve unshaken, the stare down continues.
“You know that I am an astral traveler and Vedic master.”
By the way, he said that, not me.
I couldn’t help but wonder if that’s his standard opening line and perhaps that I need to start rethinking mine.
“I have a message that I would like to share with you. Come back into my office.” Always one to embrace provocation, I took his lead and went into his office while the others continued to try things on, none of them transacting.
Historically, I don’t do well when a man gets psychically aggressive with me, so I was ready to play ball. Once we got back into his office, the door was quietly closed behind me. I wish I remembered his name for this post to humanize him more. Although he was pushy and annoying, he was spot on for many things, taking me to tears with the intimacy he extracted from my aching heart. Those things I won’t share here in this blog; they belong to another chapter, in a book just partially written. We had a connection, I had taken the bait to engage and gained great insights. There are no accidents.
Then he blew my mind with a telling revelation,
“It is imperative that you quit consuming foods with gluten.”
Never were any of his words more probing and direct than this message relayed from a-high. Now, I suspect you might be laughing. It would be funny as shit, right, except if I had not already received cloying guidance of a similar message.
I have recoiled in the past at the prospect of being “that guy” who can’t handle his grains.
Recently a dear friend’s young son got diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. During her journey, I was blessed with a lot of wisdom this courageous Mama Bear was sharing along the way. Almost every meditation, every indicator of symbols seen but unspoken in nature were imploring me to revisit some of my dietary choices: going gluten-free practically a scream.
Fast forward five months, and I have made the break. It actually wasn’t that hard. I had spent the earlier part of the year hosting my annual 40 Day Challenge and had broken the shackles off coffee and a radical reduction in sugar consumption. There was a newfound confidence that I could learn to uncover the deeper meanings and motivations for being uncontrollably lured to certain types of foods.
Most of them went well beyond a benign ‘nom-nom’ factor.
Frankly, I felt like shit after I ate bread, naan, pita, pizza, pasta and sandwiches. Living a life on the go, how many times have I unconsciously grabbed for anything that was housed between two buns?
However, I also felt comforted, my brain fed and my emotional landscape sated. So many of my favorite memories from my family life whirled around gluten-based foods, like a spaghetti being swirled around a silver fork.
My first week was easy. I was motivated by the will to live a higher quality of life. This required getting my body into a bigger and better peak state and the ability to maintain that standard for longer periods of time. Then I became aware of the desire to want to have greater energy for my daughter.
By day ten, the allure of a fresh baked pretzel stopped me dead in my tracks. It’s as if my hormones had reset and now the cravings set in. Having gained insights and now understanding motivations, I steered clear and have managed two weeks thus far in highly tempting environments and without the desire to well “break bread.”
The dark eyed man popped back into my mind, reinforcing what I already knew in my mind but that my taste buds weren’t ready to acquiesce.
The baseline of my jaw and face began breaking out with welts; my body broke out into hives. Did I mention the awkward itching that dominated most of last week? Twice I was stopped dead with exhaustion like a massive sugar drop by 3:00pm. My legs felt heavy like lead the last three days, making my usual exercise routine perfunctory at best. It was hard for me to imagine that there may be withdrawal from this and maybe it’s psychosomatic but nonetheless, week one was a breeze and last week sucked.
It’s hard to say goodbye to something that has always been there for you; providing a level of grounding and comfort when you didn’t know that it did. Honestly, I cannot say that I even see any benefits other than some phantom ab contours that I forgot existed after every gluten-heavy meal when my stomach ballooned out. The verdict is out but the guidance has been heeded and this new program I am willing to follow.
The great insight is the awakening. There are moments where we can once again reclaim the absenteeism from our thought process and rationale. Imagine always wanting something, even if it’s something so small like making a decision for yourself on what you put inside your body and not being able to do it. Then it all comes together and in a snap, volition and conviction get you over the finish line.
In the not so immortal words of James Blunt, “Goodbye, my lover. Goodbye, my friend.”
There may be moments in the future when I forget, failing to realize something I once loved is no longer what enamors me now. Maybe then my Indian friend can put his skills to good use, when in my darkest hour he can astral travel over my way and remind me to buy the Udi’s and leave the pretzel rolls to someone else.