Practicing Mindfulness

The new year always bring out my sentimental side – I love the quiet calm the snowy cold brings (even gracing us on the eve of January 1 this year, sandwiched between unseasonable 50 degree temperatures), forcing us to slow down, bringing the opportunity to reflect on the year past and set intentions for the year to come. This year, particularly, felt significant to me - after starting graduate school in September and flying through four months in what seemed to be the blink of an eye, I more than welcomed a chance to stop, reflect, and re-orient myself to… myself.


As school started, I suddenly had a whole new set of priorities. Amidst paper-writing and stacks of readings, a part-time job, maintaining old relationships and forging new ones, as well as making some small effort to keep up on all the activities of my old non-school life; old priorities like exercising, cooking, and even sleeping, dropped to the bottom of my to-do list.


Certainly, in my “past life,” I had had busy weeks with less sleep and less exercise, more coffee and take-out food – but these were choices I consciously made, knowing that they were exceptions and that I would soon return to my healthier baseline. But as the rush of the semester faded, I had the sudden realization that these had become new habits that I didn’t think twice about. I had lost a level of mindfulness regarding my health and body. Not only that, but I knew subconsciously that my logic of prioritizing was backward – when I would take time out of my busy-ness to run, to sleep an extra hour, or to prepare a healthy, home-cooked dinner, I found that the rest of my life became less stressful, more manageable, more peaceful and pleasant.


When winter break arrived and I was faced with an abundance of time – a whole MONTH off – and the beginning of the new year, I went on a mission to bring back mindfulness, starting with what I was eating. I had read Shari Danielson’s account of her kicharee cleanse here on SGT a few years ago and it had stuck with me. The cleanse originates from Ayruvedic medicine, a traditional system of holistic health from India, and purports to trigger fat burning, and along with it, the release of toxins, stress, and negative emotions. It entails eating a meal of kicharee–basically split peas, rice, and mild Indian spices – three times a day. Four days is the recommended duration of the “short home cleanse.” The eating plan is paired with drinking only warm water, ginger tea, and a few gulps of warm ghee every morning.


More than the burning off of toxins – I like the idea, but I’m skeptical of the science – I was attracted to the idea of eating simply. Eating a healthy, warm, nourishing, easily digestible meal three times a day. Re-creating an awareness of what I was putting in my body and bringing back my deeper connection with food – as something more than just a tool for keeping my body running. As a food lover, I missed the joy I had previously taken in planning meals, sitting down, enjoying, and contemplating what I was eating.


This process of mindfulness began even before the cleanse officially began, as I headed to a South Asian grocery store in Northeast for spices and moong dal, and cooked my first pot of kicharee. I browsed the aisles of spices and exotic imported foods, considered the cultural connections and the ancient ritual of the food I would be consuming, and simply took the time to measure out ingredients, roast spices, and follow a recipe – instead of just throwing together what I found in my fridge.


On the third day of the cleanse I, like Shari, broke the rules of the strict version and downgraded to the “kicharee cleanse lite” – really living it up, I steamed a few carrots and a handful of spinach and added it to my lunch. After eating all kicharee, all the time, the sweetness and texture of the vegetables was incredible. I had never felt more aware and mindful of a simple carrot.


After four days, many bowls of kicharee, and a cup and a half of prune juice (that’s when the cleansing really comes in), I re-entered the wonderful world of a varied diet. Coincidentally, I was treated to a dinner that night prepared by a brilliant chef friend of mine – beets, greens, and citrus, sourdough bread, flaky pink salmon, almond custard. A decadent meal that couldn’t have been more different from the bland simplicity of the kicharee. I enjoyed its seasonings and flavor combinations, textures, and multiple components with an appreciation I hadn’t felt in a long time – not just in the past four days, but in the past few months.


While the simplicity of the four-day cleanse brought a certain type of enjoyment, the contrast of the post-cleanse meal was the perfect complementary end to the experience. As I reflected on what had driven me to do the cleanse in the first place, I considered the fact that whether eating kicharee or a four-course meal, my eating had been intentional and purposeful, and each type of eating had allowed me to appreciate the other more. As I enter a new semester, and a new year, my resolution is to seek this balance in my eating, and my life more broadly: to practice simplicity and austerity, on occasion some indulgence, and to accept reality by most often falling somewhere in between. In all of this, the end goal is to always be mindful and intentional with my choices, being aware of the broader context in which I’m making decisions while valuing my own well-being.


How do you find you return to mindfulness when life gets out of hand? Have you found a fast or cleanse that works to restore health or balance? Please let us know below.


Georgia Rubenstein works at an environmental non-profit in Minneapolis, studies urban planning at the Humphrey School, and loves food in all of its forms -- growing it, cooking it, eating it, feeding it to her worms, and then starting the cycle all over. In all of her spare time, she can be found philosophizing about food, considering food policy issues, and working to harness the incredible power of food to save the world.