A thick haze lay over the apartment. My eyes teared as the clouds of smoke trickled slowly out the window. It was the second pot (metal ware) I had burned in one day. And it was not even noon.
I was home sick, attempting to undertake a detox program that I had hoped would bring health, happiness, calm, and a host of other heavenly aspirations. Instead, my inability to stick to the program was frustrating at best, and, now, thanks to smoke-inhalation from the charred-remains sitting on the stove, cancer-causing at worst.
The Ayurvedic detox regime set forth was neither inhumane nor superhuman. And yet, skimming the five pages of protocols that I had received over email, it had taken me a week to muster up the courage to print it out, let alone commence operation of Panchakarma. You can read that as “punch of karma,” as that’s what it feels like, too.
The first step in the Daily Routine is simply to wake up in the morning. However, this prerequisite rests on the premise of a 10 p.m. bedtime the night before. There is no greater proof of one’s inability to control the universe than attempting a 10 p.m. bedtime in New York City for fourteen days in a row. When you slip up, the 6 a.m. reward of a hot cup of fennel and coriander detox tea only adds penance to purgatory.
After yoga, a shower, and inhaling purified butter up your nostrils, breakfast is on the menu. No coffee and muffin on the run, but, instead, fresh, homemade applesauce or steel-cut oatmeal is recommended. In short, anything that is long in preparation and cooking duration. And so, I set the alarm a half an hour early. Consistently failing this, I cook everything on high while standing on my head with ghee dripping down my face.
For lunch, a simple Khichari diet is best (rice and lentils). By simple is meant a three-hour long cooking process, the end result producing yellow mush. But, mustard seeds need time to properly “pop” and lentils need at six-to-eight cups of water to fully soften. “Indentured servitude” is a fitting descriptor for the Panchakarma Daily Routine, as no chewing is required. However, given that I am not Jeff Who Lives at Home, in order to submit my will to the demands of the daily routine, while managing a job and respecting the allotted one-hour lunch break, I burn everything and resort to hard boiled eggs before running back out the door.
“In the evening, when you come home or finish your work . . .” begins the last page of the five-page Daily Routine instructions, ignoring the possibility that in today’s modern world, the harsh reality is that you are never, really, ever, fully, finished. And as such, the basil and eucalyptus oil baths wait indeterminately to be drawn. There are guidelines for what to eat (cherries, not pomegranates), and what yoga poses are suitable: Uttanasanas (stand, forward bend), not Sarvangasanas (shoulder stand) (woops!) and there is a page regarding what herbs to consume and in what quantity and at which time(s) of the day. But at the end of it all, the note: “If you have any questions, call me.” I don’t call the Ayurvedic practitioner, as I have only one question that is too existentially all encompassing to leave on an answering machine: “Is it possible?”
As the last of the smoke clears from the apartment, only the charred scent from the metal ware awaiting my verdict in the sink remains. The damage from the breakfast-stewed apples is manageable. The discoloration from the burnt ghee and Khichari lunch appears insurmountable. If detoxification is a process, I am failing, longing for the quick fix. Repeatedly, outside the bounds of the confessional, I am increasingly made aware of how much I lack the willpower and elbow grease necessary for this life. Am I the sum of my inabilities or actions? And what is the answer, to give up and give in, to order a new set of pots and look for Khichari takeout online? I could. It would be easy. Google would help me. Or, do I pull out the steel wool, scrub the insides and the outsides clear, and start again?
Ironically, in my search, Wikipedia reveals that Pre-Panchakarma procedures are called Poorvakarma. You can read that as dealing with your “poor karma”; the joke’s on me. The two recommended procedures are: sweating (perseverance) and oliation (elbow grease) .