Abstinence

For those of you who know me personally, this has been a year of experimentation. I did not plan for it, but somehow that’s the path I have undertaken, with interesting results.

After the excesses of December, Dry January was actually a relief. Abstinence from alcohol is almost de rigeur at the start of the year, and I was in good company as most of my friends and acquaintances were also abstaining. Barring a few social occasions, I did not miss the wine or the rum and coke quite as much as I thought I would. A chamomile tea served me just as well, and helped more with a good night’s rest than the wine ever had. I had more energy and realised that aside of a social crutch, alcohol’s only other purpose was that it was a mild de stressor. A combination of fatigue and alcohol nearly always brought out the worst in me. On it’s own I handled fatigue far better than before. Result: a more rested and balanced me.

Sugar free February proved more challenging. Cursed with a sweet tooth, nearly every meal has to end with some sort of dessert. Could I stay off all sugar for an entire month? Dr Michael Mosley’s ‘The eight week blood sugar diet’ certainly helped. Having read it in one sitting I was determined that no refined sugar would cross my lips. I almost succeeded. I could not entirely eliminate sugar as it is added to nearly all kinds of foods(shockingly), and I had neither the inclination nor the will power to be a complete anti sugar crusader. I also carried on eating fruits, Nature’s own dessert, as I reckoned that natural equated to healthier. Result: clear skin and weight loss.

March was comparatively the easiest month. A simple banning of coffee just meant excluding the 2 mugs I had every day. I substituted with tea, which some people advised had more caffeine in it than coffee. Upon researching this I found it to be partially true. Yes, tea leaves have more caffeine in them than coffee beans. But post brewing , the caffeine content in a cup of tea is substantially less than a cup of coffee. Either ways, I suffered no coffee withdrawal. In the end, all I did miss was the aroma, and the ritual of nursing my first mug of coffee. Tea did not have quite the same romance to it. Result: Coffee dependence was all in my mind.

April is my vegetarian month. It started with a bang as I declared to all and sundry that I had sworn off meat, poultry, fish and eggs. Then promptly forgot and popped two sausages on my plate at the breakfast buffet. Cue lots of guilt, and a re avowing of former pledge. Having to survive on vegetables and lentils has been no great hardship. I have enjoyed discovering new recipes, and revisiting some old ones too. For instance, Avial, a South Indian preparation that I remember from my childhood, made a surprise appearance at a new restaurant in my village. Impressed I decided to prepare it at home, and now it’s a firm family favourite. Unfortunately, travelling has severely limited my choices to pastas or salads. Even so, there is a growing awareness of the advantages of vegetarianism and increasingly, chefs and restaurants are experimenting with newer combinations and meat free options. Result: Too early to say, but hopefully better health.

Friends and colleagues have questioned the sanity of my methods. I have in turns been declared mad (in jest) or a killjoy. Why am I doing this I have been asked time and again? Is all this elimination necessary, or is it just another fad bandwagon I’ve jumped on?

The answer is murky at best. I have, for a while, wanted to see how my body reacts to certain foods, or the lack thereof. I have also wanted to test my will power and my dependence on said foods. So, in a way, my body has been a laboratory of sorts. I am enjoying the process, and although not free of pitfalls (sausages!), it has been a fairly smooth journey up till now.

What next then?

The start of May will be a bit of a breather. Then I will launch into a combined elimination of all four things listed above. Will I be able to sustain it? I certainly hope so. Although, I’m guessing it will be a lot tougher this time around.

With the first half of the year focussing on the body, the second half will focus on the mind. Yoga, meditation and control over an explosive temper will be the next challenges I’d like to tackle. Tacked to that is a challenge that I will not reveal yet, but once accomplished, will share the results of.

I hate leaving things undone, so, in the midst of all these things, I am also trying to get ahead on my Experiment series 2. If I learn nothing else from all this, I hope it teaches me a bit more about self discipline, and an application of myself to that which I truly love: my writing.

Have you tried anything similar? I’d love to hear about your experiences. Please comment or inbox me. And bonne chance with all your endeavours.

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What lies beneath

We live in interesting times. Social media has given us a voice, a platform and an audience like never before. We are all armchair analysts, foaming at our mouths over social inequities and perceived injustices. Each of us has an opinion on politics and current affairs, and boy, do we air those opinions with glee. Our moral duty done, us fickle activists of the lowest order, move on with the more mundane business of living our fairly boring suburban lives. Till the next cause that tickles our fancy comes along. It is a moveable feast after all, with no dearth of succulent meats to sink our proverbial teeth into.

What lies beneath all this moral outrage? A desire for change? The seeds of a revolution? Or, a mere positioning of oneself at the epicentre of social recognition. This is a person with his/her finger on the pulse of what is important. Never mind that the frenzy over what is important changes from one minute to the next. The irony being that, that which is truly important is not sensational enough to warrant attention from the social media parasites.

Perception is King. If the appearance of giving a damn is enough, then why really bother to give a damn? If the headlines are eyeballs grabbing enough, why bother with the facts? We are shallow people with shallow agendas. Our motives are to lynch and demonise. To bring down, not build up. We hide behind our screens, trolling those whose opinions are different from ours. Mocking, laughing and sniggering at the people who are doing the real job of effecting change. Ignorance, impotence and ire are the rungs of this particular ladder.

Eschewing truth in favour of the flavour of the day, we jump on our moral high horses, and are surprised to encounter opposition. After all, isn’t the popular opinion the right one too? No? How dare anyone interfere with our version of the narrative!

The pitfalls lie in believing that whatever we are espousing this moment has no other variables attached to it. Cause, effect and circumstance have multiple facets and complexities, and in downplaying certain aspects to lend credence to others, we put on the blinkers of our biases.

So perhaps, in the midst of spouting all this wisdom, we need to take a moment’s pause and check ourselves. Check our facts, check our sources, check our thoughts, check our prejudices and check our knee jerk emotional responses. Check whether our outrage is rooted in principles or the shifting sands of social media’s topic du jour.

For, in refusing to do any of the above, we are in danger of becoming the very thing that we despise.

Lone Wolf

So what makes them do it? What makes an ordinary, quiet, seemingly normal teenager fire an automatic at his school friends and teachers? What makes a man drive his car into innocent pedestrians on a sidewalk? What justification is there for these lone wolf attacks?

Wolves are pack animals, just as humans are by nature socialised beings. Lone wolves on the other hand, prefer their own company. They live and hunt on their own. They are outcasts by temperament, by circumstance and sometimes of their own volition.

Nearly always after another chilling attack, emerge the clues that led to it. A social misfit, a dysfunctional background, a lack of love, a propensity for violence, vulnerability to ideological brainwashing. Taken alone, each of these qualities may perhaps lead a person to a solitary existence, a criminal career or even a mental institution. Together, however, they become so much more dangerous.

Can we, as responsible citizens; parents, neighbours, co workers, pick up on any of these clues, and report them to the relevant authorities? Do we, as a society, have a duty towards these social outcasts? Is it possible in any way to intervene and diffuse a potentially fatal situation from developing?

These are amongst the many questions that lie at the heart of the modern dilemma of home grown attackers. Are killers born or made? Are terrorists just victims of circumstance and conditioning?

Reflection and responsibility. Two things that might lead us to answers. Uncomfortable truths of the part we play in marginalising these peripheral pariahs, whose only moments of recognition and glory lie in death, terror and destruction.

Then, and only then, will we vanquish this multi headed Hydra.