Category Archives: Tree

Day Nineteen

Here we are, day nineteen, and today must be a “think about your parents” day, because it began this morning right after morning prayer when I spent time trying to visualize my mother and wept.  And now, when I’m just thinking about the last time I weighed in at my current weight class, I’m remembering meaningfully my father.

The Mosquitos are pretty bad today, singing around my ears and biting in my blind spots.  No-see-ums.  It’s because of the rain, the rain that drummed and tapped against the sides of my tent during a fairly long night.

Speaking of food…  Last night I obsessively wrote out ideas for a business involving food, plans, recipes, logos.  It didn’t occur to me until this morning that maybe – just maybe – I was in the thrall of hunger.

And we’re still talking around the subject of food when I change the topic back to my father, how wasted and small he’d become, ravaged by cancer.  Between the morphine and the throbbing pain, he couldn’t keep anything but the smallest portions down.  Pancreatic cancer, he told me outside a grocers, is a death by starvation.   Last I saw him, it was the first time I’d ever seen him smaller than me.  My step-mother had bought some size 28’s for him a month before, but his pants hung draped by his belt with the front folded over by the time I saw him.  She said, “Don’t tell him, but I saved the receipts.”  He died three weeks later.

Mother was a bird, thin and bony, uncomfortable to lean against, difficult to cuddle, practically a science experiment.  She ate sparingly, a meal a day, sometimes less.  At 5’2″ she rarely weighed more than a 100 pounds, but she loved cooking and her children ate well – well enough that all three of us are food snobs and some of us… To be fair… We eat too much for our metabolisms.  On the other hand… Happy people without vanity are such a pleasure (always willing to stick their tongue out at a person, make a funny face) especially when you’re related.

Which brings us to happy: today, I danced atop a prominence above a rocky shore, spinning and rolling with the wind and the waves, grass underfoot, blue sky above.  I’d almost forgotten how I used to love to move, how the joy would rise up as my chest would heave and the dance would take me for a ride.  I’m thinking of movement as a creative sacrament today, a religious duty like sharing the sorrows of a friend or sympathizing with their joys.  If you can move, I’m sure God finds the creativity and expression of your body’s movement as appealing as we find the fragrance of flowers.  I’ll definitely be dancing again.

One hundred and thirty pounds in stockinged feet.  I was nineteen years old and my step-mother would tell me again and again that I was too thin, that the veins in my arms shouldn’t be so visible, that I looked emaciated .  My father told her, “Feed that boy.”  So she made steak and potatoes, encouraged me to eat ice cream, filled the house with snacks and sodas, and always cooked enough for leftovers.  Here I am, again, but this time absent an ice chest with Eskimo bars in the door, no larder with bended shelf, and I’m going back the other way, thinning down where both she and my father would have me fattening up.

I hope to see her at the Thanksgiving holiday.  What’s perverse delight that would be.

Today is the nineteenth day of my fast.   I pray it gets easier.

I know it’s won’t.

The tears have just begun.


Day Sixteen

Today was day sixteen.

Sixteen days without food. Sixteen days.

Physically, how am I doing? I feel all right. Really, I feel fine. Stomach feels empty but isn’t panging like it did on day three while the crew cooked dinner. A sip of water here, some coconut water there, I feel all right. But, without any distractions from my own mind… ooh… I’m craving a cigarette today. It comes in waves of need that fall back into the ocean of my desire and then come in again and again for minutes at a time. Even these craving are all right. I remember them from last time I quit. (Hey! I brought licorice root to chew. I’m grabbin’ some. Be right back.) Without mirrors or accurate scales I can’t really judge how my body is changing but its been sixteen days without food, and – according to the fasting literature, I’m almost certain to have given up between ten and fifteen pounds from my entry weight of somewhere around one hundred and forty five. I know that the size 32 jeans I got in New York this winter are now at least two sizes too big.

I’m not worried. Weight loss rates decrease quickly during fasts and I took all the steps to do this as safely as possible. By next week I should only be losing between four and eight ounces a day. And the week after I’ll be expecting that to drop to between four and eight. From then on… four to eight onces a day. I’ve done the maths. If all goes well… Well….
There’s literature out there – real case studies done by western medicine in the forties and fifties – that suggests that after thirty days of fasting, people on pure water water fasts lose only several ounces of weight of day. I can barely imagine it: don’t eat for six days and only lose one pound.

In the meantime, coconut water is a diuretic (explaining my having to urinate all of the time) and is great for my kidneys, but I have to stay up on my regular water consumption.
Why am I doing this? It’s not for my health. Is it to find and cement a relationship with God? Well, that’s what my schedule is all about, the prayer and meditation but, who knows? If we’re all just a part of Creation creating, then what I think I’m doing might be altogether misleading.

I have a lot of time to ask myself that question. For now, I can sit back, watch the citronella candle burn, relax, and get ready for my eight o’clock meditation.

Meditating. That’s hard. I started out easy with just two hours a day – three or four sittings, but now I can hold posture for an hour, easy. It’s the concentrating on the spot between my eyebrows for more than a few seconds that’s tough; my eyeballs move in their orbits of their own volition and I think my left eye is weaker than my right because my right eye can remain aimed at the spot that’s said to be the center of Christ-consciousness while the left seems to fatigue and drift away, lazily going cross-eyed toward the bridge of my nose. My guidebook for this adventure is the yogi Paramhansa Yogananda’s system of self-realization and he insists that the more I concentrate my will, the faster results will come. So I set and reset (and reset) my eyes, gently reminding myself to give my attention to my third eye, and when they drift away, set them back, again.

An effect of this inner-gazing is sometimes felt as a swirling eddy of energy just above my eyebrows and, other times, like an itching or burning sensation. When I feel either, I try and enter that sensation… But I hardly know what that means, to enter into the sensation.
Afterwards, however, there’s a calm like I’ve never experienced, a calm that takes one by surprise, like standing in a gale and having the wind utterly cease. In that serenity exists a beatific acceptance of things as they are.
I’m being careful, here, to avoid the topics of what I’m thinking about and what I’m writing about in my journal and my reasons, for good or bad, are because I’m involving myself in esoteric thought I’m neither yet comfortable elucidating nor confident explaining. I’ve become a disciple of sorts, a student travelling with masters centuries gone to ground, and I have a ways to go yet before the topography of this journey can be charted or analyzed, so I merely take the steps, confident, faithful, assured, that one way or another, I’ll get where I’m going.

With prayer, meditation, and as much will as I can muster, I’m determined to meet my inner mystic.

Faith tells me that he’s around here, somewhere.

Oh, yes… Tomorrow is laundry day.


Updates …

Neil talks to Dr. Jacob Lieberman

Neil learns to meditate.

Neil learns to meditate.

Director: Mark Matthews

Director: Mark Matthews

Tree – Day 1

Letting the days go by….

I don’t want to find myself concentrating on the days, thir names, their number. I want to lose track of them, have them fade away like ghosts on vanished horses. To know the days is to know the distance and I don’t care about fathoms or furlongs, meters or miles, counting strides and . No journey begins with two steps. It’s always just the one followed by the other. I dont want to know how long it’s been since my last banana, my last avocado, my last juice.

On the other hand, I’m thrilled to have made it to day five. It’s here (say the sources) that the pangs diminish and energy returns. It’s here at day five that the food addictions begin to break and the relationship with food becomes less needy. I think I can already feel (if one can be said to feel a negation) the detachment.

A bowl of fragrant roses for a meal,
The jollity of friends.
Chick peas with garlic
Smell delicious, too.

I have a journal that I’m using to copy a prayer of St. Francis of Assisi’s until I have it memorized. No time at all, just ten minutes, to copy it three times each day (yesterday, the day before, and this morning) and, although I know i haven’t the order cemented yet, all the content is in my noggin, now. Here it is (corrected… I did forget a line):

Lord make me a channel of thy peace,
that where there is hatred, I may bring love,
that where there is error, I may bring forgiveness,
that where there is discord, I may bring harmony,
that where there is wrong, I may bring truth,
that where there is doubt, I may bring faith,
that where there is despair, I may bring hope,
that where there is darkness, I may bring light,
that where there is sadness, I may bring joy.
For it is by self-forgetting that one finds it
is by forgiveness that one is forgiven,
and it is by dying that one awakens to eternal life.

Neither the meditation sessions (two to three a day) or the yoga (one heavier, one lighter session) have shown any result, but (Ok… yesterday I was pretty spaced out after forty-five minutes of meditation in the afternoon, but I have no idea what the cause was. I haven’t been eating! It could as easily have been a lightheadedness, a dumfoundedness that just came on upon arising from my sitting posture) I have no expectations about them, either. I just got started. My concentration will improve as I meditate more. My body will become more limber with frequent stretching. However, according to Andrew Newberg (How God Effects your Brain), meditating for just fifteen minutes a day will show brain changes at the end of a single week, and according to Rachel Gonzalez, daily yoga will evince changes in posture and energy also within a week.

I’m still so new to both, however, that they’re hard for me. It’s hard to concentrate for an hour. The monkey mind goes wandering. It’s hard to hold a pose and not give in to burning numbness. I’m counting on improving. I think it’ll be hard to do this thing if I don’t.

After my early afternoon sitting meditation yesterday, I went for a walk. Maybe that spaciness I mentioned was the result of chanting the mantra ‘hare Krishna” in my head the whole time I strolled. Still… it could be the not eating. Either way, I was in fine, spaced-out head-set for the rest of the day.

three days later…

Although we got here four nights ago, we haven’t yet got a tree. There was a big hoopla and we all thought, “Hey it’s on!”… but it wasn’t. We’re staying in a beautiful house, with a spectacular view, but we’re hiding during the day like hoodlums because we’re technically not supposed to be here. Without a tree, that “not supposed to be here” feels like a sublime truth. Without a tree, what are we doing here?
As for the fast… it continues (with the exception of some irresistable coconut meat that appears to tempt me every time I open a coconut for drinking).
In case you haven’t been following…
Friday the 21st february, my diet shifted from whatever I wanted to eat (which we’d all consider a “fairly healthy” diet, but which was still whatever I wanted to eat. Lots of bread and rice, lots of pastas. Here a meat, there a meat. Frequent vegetarian meals.) to a diet touted by a doctor of Chinese Medicine of leafy greens and vegetable juices, supplemented by sundry items from his apothecary. Green powders that contained things like powdered wheat grass and algae and brown powders which joined reishi with pulverized acai and otherrs, bee pollen and b-complexes, something that called itself cell-food. Flax seed oil cooked and dressed my meals. I ate sautees of greens prescribed by said doctor: bitter beet-greens, peppery mustard greens, a clove of garlic, a carrot, a little grated ginger, no salt, no pepper, dressed with a ripe avocado and some basil or a sprig of dill. Sometimes that meal was over chopped oats. Other times it was over quinoa. It was breakfast, lunch and dinner. And during the day I’d make smoothies or juices. Carrots, apples, ginger, beets, bananas, starfruit, mango, papaya, celery, the occassional grapefruit. Hardcore healthy. All my juices were tinted green and tasted minty because of the chlorophyll I added, but I didn’t care.
That was my diet.
And then March 1st rolled around and the regime got even tougher. I entered what was supposed to be a five-day transition to a simple liquid diet: No solid foods at all to get me into line for having bowels to be proud of before beginning the coconut water-fast. Which takes us to the first scheduling delay date of March 7. Fine. Although I’m shedding weight like a diver sheds his tanks, I re-establish my commitment to this thing, and I continue in depths of smoothies and juices. Another five days – no big deal. So what if the diet wasn’t intended to go this long?
On the 13th, expecting to have a tree to get under so I can “officially” begin my search for Unity with the Divine Spirit, I dropped all the extraneous juices and moved to the water inside fresh coconuts and regular, regular water. Since I didnt have a tree, I let myself boil the water for cafferine -free tea. No harm at all. I won’t have tea under that tree, thats for sure.
Yesterday, the 15th, I let myself nibble on some shards of coconut meat. This isn’t one of those american nibbles where we “nibble” through a bag of corn chips. Literally, over the course of the day, I ate a couple of tablespoons of fresh coconut meat.
I still don’t have a tree to go under. I’m not beating myself up about some pieces of fresh coconut. What I would beat myself up about is sharing breakfast with the filmmakers who are eating such delightfully smelling meals that my mouth literally fills with saliva almost faster than I can shut it to keep from dribbling.
And today is the 16th. No tree. No food. Just some coconuts. And maybe, I’ll nibble on a shard or two.
I must be addled-pated to let things continue like this.

Tonight is tonight and tomorrow… tomorrow

Tonight is…
Tonight is the last night before I go. And I’m going dumb, just like we all agreed. I don’t know the location, except for it might be under a mango tree. (Who thought of that, putting a man abstaining from food underneath a tree that drops its fruit when the fruit is perfect for eating? Who, I ask?) I’ve been warned that I might have to build my own shelter, which is great. I know my half-hitch, my wrap, and whatever that’s called when you turn the wrap so it cinches it all in. But am I going to be given rope? Or a knife to make cording with? Or gloves to prevent macerated hands? A machete? Is there material to build a shelter anywhere about this mango tree?

Mark Matthews asked me today if I had any dry clothes. For a year I’ve been telling him I want a rain-suit. It looks like another of those minimum requirements that got dropped because of budgetary concerns, like Western-style medical monitoring and before and after fMRI pictures of my brain. Maybe he’s trying to scare me. Maybe it’s a ruse to get even with me for the past year of trusting neglect I’ve given the project. It wouldn’t surprise me if he took a perverse joy in setting me in a mosquito-infested rainforest sans slicks and shelter. Possibly a ruse, a little prank, a bit of mischief on Mark’s part, but… I have a sinking feeling in my stomach.

Speaking of stomachs… My last bit of solid food was a half-slice of pizza either nine or ten days ago. My sister would kill me if she knew. Three weeks of a greens-no-gluten diet, followed by this last bit of only drinking fruit and vegetable juice – a couple of quarts every day – has just peeled off what little fat I had left after a December spent walking around New York. I’m ripped. My abs haven’t looked like this in over a decade. And of course, I can’t help thinking that I might not weigh enough.

Yesterday I had my first lay-in-bed-and-shake panic but it didn’t last long. Only a couple of minutes. Remembering to breathe alleviated the fear.

And I wonder how many of those moments I have in front of me.

First draft of a a devotional…

Dear Absolute.
A devotional poem

You’re the only one who’s ever given me butterflies
You’re the one I’ve longed to meet, I can’t deny.
through calm and storm, you’re never there.
I want you in my heart and I can feel you in the air.
Despite my longing, despite my fears
I can only pray that I’ll meet you somewhere.

What happened to our relationship?
Why did you leave before we even met?
I want to worship but I cannot find your temple.
So I make of myself an offering
A sacrifice for an absent king
I’d kiss your ring if ever I could meet you.

Here I am, I give my life to you.
Because there’s nothing left for me to do
I’m starving for the lack of you
A feast of nothing under skies of blue

Sitting with my cousin in a bar in Williamsburg, a neighborhood bar in a neighborhood in Brooklyn, I heard him tell me that he doesn’t think this forty-nine day business is going to go so well for me. He imagined that I’d go thirty, thirty-five, and just be unable to go further.

My first thought was that my cousin was simply projecting his own imaginings, his own expectations of himself, onto me. It’s the second thought-series that really trips me up: So what if he is projecting? What difference does it make to me? Why am I dismissing his concerns as mere projection? I’m the one leaping to dismiss his words, creating a story to protect my image of me. I expect support from a cousin, even a little white lie, a little warm sunshine on his breath. Even if he was projecting, there is no valid reason that would force me to explain his disapproval away other than my poor ego needing some protection.

Maybe I think the same way and just don’t want to admit it. I know I’ve thought about that scenario, a month without, fighting lethargy, maybe even hallucinating, trying to maintain consciousness. The difference between a thirty day fast, which doctors say is moderately safe, and a forty-nine day fast, is a monster. The difference is monstrous. It’s scary. It’s not safe.

Why do I think I can do this?

I’ll hit the easy-to-dart balloons first.

I think I can do this because, as Joseph Campbell described, when you commit to an action, when you’re on the fresh tracked trail of your own bliss, people come out of the woodwork to make your dreams come true, and people have done just that for me. I know that’s a strange piece of logic, but I think it’s true: I can do forty-nine days because a team came together so I could do forty-nine days.

Next balloon.

I think it’s likely that in the first week or two, I’ll learn more about discomfort than I’ve ever known. After that, I think I’ll just be steadily and increasingly uncomfortable, something that I’ll be able to ignore or merely notice most of the time. The literature seems to suggest that after a week or so, hunger goes away.

Next balloon.

I can do this because, like Whitman, I’m a magnificent idler. I can sit for days on end with nothing but my own mind to amuse me. To have such casual goals as this TREE requires (stretch, meditate, try to write poems of praise to the absolute, keep a journal, try not to scratch the mosquito bites) and knowing, of course, that without much effort I’ll get incrementally better at those things, thus making each day a little easier – to have such achievable goals within the context of the forty-nine days, makes achieving the goal of forty-nine days very approachable.

Did I win the big bear yet? No? Next balloon.

A year ago the whip of shame snapped my heels (an image of a Muslim woman in the street, crying, a policeman with a length of popping leather) and I remember thinking that it might be pride that kept me under the branches, a fear of being ashamed or of disappointing those that worked so hard to get me under the canopy. Yet, I’ve learned the lessons of ridicule and blame. There’s nothing in them but self-hatred and I don’t think I have that, anymore. The shame and blame game was last year.

Next balloon. One more to get the big one?

I can do this because I want to do this. I want a great journey, an epic adventure, a rite-of-passage, a transformational experience. I can do this because, when put in those terms, everyone wants to do this, however they can.

Oh, one more? Last balloon.

I can do this because when I think about doing it, I feel happy. I imagine the first days, the exhaustion, the haggardness, the putting on of a friendly face despite just being sacked, and I smile. I think of two weeks in, cramping and feverish (Why? I don’t know. It’s not in the literature, but it’s how I imagine it) and chuckling because I know it’ll pass. It’s just a fever. It’s just a cramp. It’s just a cold. A couple of days and it’ll be gone. Oh! It makes me smile. The body just works through it.

I’ll stay happy and I’ll get through it.

I remember the first hero-story that resonated with me. There is a guy named Stephen Foust who, when I was ten, walked thirty-six hundred miles, across the the United States. He started in Indiana and, for nine months, talked to people all over the country, doing a phone-in radio show about the people he’d meet and the places he’d go. I wanted to be just like him.
But without all the walking.
And that’s not strictly true. I had daydreams of walking across the continent, making meandering my livelihood with a giant dog, a dane or mastiff at my side as companion and guard. What I loved about the idea of it, more than anything else, was the idea that somewhere, sometime during the journey, there would be a falling away of my self and I’d be brought into union with something I couldn’t understand.
I was ten. Or eleven.
Feet slapping gravel, splashing in puddles, stepping, stepping, stepping, the sun beating down, the rain beating down, stepping, stepping, stepping, stopping to sleep and eat and to feed the dog.
The second hero-story that made an impact on me was hearing about Mother Theresa of Calcutta. I was in sixth or seventh grade and the teacher of my social studies class showed a short film that detailed the founding of her charities and her work amongst the poorest of the poor.
My heart broke open with love but, as children do, I quite forgot about her during recess and it wasn’t until quite a few years later that I would return to her story.