Sattva & Renunciation in Cleansing

Posted on July 16, 2011



So the cleanse is over <insert satisfied grin here> and with closure comes perspective!

Cleanse schedule - it's been through some times!

I can’t help but think about how dietary cleansing fits into the big picture.  Clearly, there is a complex mind-body connection, but does food play an integral role in a spiritual life?

Fasting is a typical practice in Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Jainism, Mormonism, Hinduism, Catholicism, Judaism, Baha’i Faith and Sikhism.  Before I left the UAE, colleagues were preparing for Ramadan, 30 days of fasting from sunrise to sunset with no water, by fasting twice a week.  Not an easy practice through the hot summer days.  Nothing is to pass the lips of the devout, not even a kiss.

To abstain from some or all food and drink for certain periods of time in the name of appreciation for the Divine is as old as the faiths themselves.

Even if you’re not a particularly religious or spiritual person, there are obvious physical and psychological benefits to fasting from some (or all) foods for a certain amount of time – in the safest conditions, of course.

As far as the fasting-spirit connection goes, I’d think logically, if you believe in a Divine or a spirit, if it’s good for the mind-body, then it must be good for the soul.  They’re all part of the same continuum.

A contemplative end to my detox - Abu Dhabi sandstorm brewing in the distance. Cheesy, I know.

For me, all acts in life are, in as much as I am able to be consciously be aware, ideally executed as an offering to something greater than myself.  In this way, each act is also a means for personal growth – acting with awareness ain’t always easy!  If something is to be done with consideration, sensitivity, kindness and grace, laziness is hardly an option.  But as anyone who knows me will attest, that’s more of a goal than a reality most moments!

There’s a part of me that finds comfort and joy in paying homage to the Divine – and if such a thing exists it must be ever-present both within and around me.  Sometimes, I see the Divine simply as a concept, a human construct of sorts, to try and better understand the Universe, in all its beauty, its sometimes confounding sense of “fair,” and of course, the ever-dangerous question “why?”

But this is the subject of another blog/rant!  Back to the cleanse . . .

The oft overused statement “Your body is a temple,” as much as it may initially connote conceit to some, can be very valuable as an approach to nutrition.

If you met God, would you offer her a twinkie?

A Yogic Diet

According to traditional yogic nutrition guidelines, yogis are to consume only “sattvic” foods, that is, foods that provide healthful energy and lead to a balanced state of clarity.  Sattva is one of three kinds of “gunas,” or tendencies of nature; the other two are “rajas,” and “tamas.”

Rajasic foods are those that over stimulate the body or mind, like coffee and tea, eggs, garlic, onion, meat, fish and chocolate, as well as most processed food.  Where there’s an active lifestyle, it may not be detrimental to one’s peace of mind to consume such foods, though it should be done in moderation.

The chocolate section in the Frankfurt Airport convenience store - rajas galore.

Personally, I’m a big fan of the tastiness of this group (except for meats), so abstaining can be tough.  It’s easy to give up garlic and chocolate when it’s not available, if you’re in an ashram or a spa.  But in everyday life, it ain’t so easy!

After the two-week cleanse, I took my first bite of chocolate – a dark blend from Lindt with whole roasted hazelnuts.

Chocolate. Manifestation of the Divine? As close as we'll probably ever get ;o)

I had a quarter of a bar – followed by such an extreme reaction, I’m a little scared to nibble again!  Dizziness, inability to write, and a full body high I’d not experienced for a long time!   Whew, somebody pass me some water . . .

On the opposite end of the spectrum are tamasic foods, those inducing a heaviness of the body or a dullness of the mind.  This would include alcohol, leftovers, and overripe or spoiled foods.

Sattvic foods include all fruits and vegetables, which is perfect for this cleanse, as well as nuts, whole grains, legumes and dairy.  Generally, if it’s fresh, agreeable and nutritious, you’re in the sattva zone!

Traditional Egyptian fare - 100% sattvic.

So my cleanse has certainly fallen under the category of “sattvic.”  And with a few exceptions, and the occasional boogie juice, I generally eat a sattvic diet on a daily basis.  Eliminating dairy, grains, legumes, and most nuts on this cleanse was the big change – and this is where “renunciation” came into play.

It is impossible to overlook the extent to which civilization is built upon a renunciation of instinct.
Sigmund Freud

Renouncers in yoga are called “sannyasins,” practitioners of the “casting down” or “laying aside” of all worldly concerns and attachments.  It’s an attitude to life at the margins of Indian society, acceptable in the post-householder final stage of life, after children have left and the material world becomes less of a necessity.

Much to the dismay of Hindu authorities, the practice is often adopted by younger practitioners, leading to abandoned families and fields, as well as kingdoms of the past.

An early-stage former-sannyasin . . . now married to a German lady!

There are two ways to approach renunciation: followers of a Mythic tradition would leave everything behind without any concern for the future, while the Tantric, Sahajayana and Integral schools allow for a metaphorical renunciation as an inner, or mental act.  The practitioner lets go of all attachments of the mind, including the ego, but is free to remain a householder.  (Feuerstein, 2008)

Some would say the cleanse isn’t “renunciation,” as defined from a traditionally yogic point of view.  I didn’t leave everything behind to eventually become a wandering sannyasin.

Sill, I have adopted, over the years, an attitude to life, which is healthily detached from many things – availability (or lack thereof this year!) of particular foods, the absence of a kitchen, or with whom I share my meals.

I’m happy to eat with people or alone whatever is available and not torture myself by thinking about what meals I could be having instead.  In a social situation, I sometimes fall into the old habit of fanaticizing about meals I’d like to cook, share or munch.  But that’s more a means of relating than actual attachment to the food.

Oh, creme brulee. I don't technically need you. But I do appreicate when you're around!

Fact is, I’ll never stop being a foodie and find endless delight in the art of cooking!

It’s a Wrap

Day to day, I’m clearly more of a renouncer of the metaphorical bend.  And that’s all good.

Both approaches have seen praise and criticism, but Krishna, in the Baghvad Gita, makes a much stronger case for the metaphorical approach.  Mere abandonment indicates a practitioner still thinks the senses abide in the sense objects.  That by eliminating them, she is somehow eliminating the act, and therefore the desires themselves.

But the practitioner who continues to act, and simply assigns all actions to the Absolute ,“is not defiled by sin, just as a lotus leaf is not stained by the water.”

In that case, I think I’ll just have me some ice cream, and do it in the name of the Lawd! ;)

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Posted in: Food, JoJournal