Religion & Beliefs
Urban Zen: Death by Macrobiotics
Someone is punishing me for my skeptical attitude toward Urban Zen. By someone, I guess I mean God, in the way my mother says “God is punishing you” when I trip after making fun of someone, or rip my pants … Read More
Someone is punishing me for my skeptical attitude toward Urban Zen. By someone, I guess I mean God, in the way my mother says “God is punishing you” when I trip after making fun of someone, or rip my pants after ridiculing the tightness of someone else’s. I was famished when lunch arrived on our table during the break yesterday. A dashing waiter came bearing a beautiful wooden tray stacked with bowls of “living” food—the kind of stuff rich, enlightened, skinny fashionistas are served at every meal. The people at my table—three yoga teachers, an internist, two nurse practitioners and an administrator at the American Cancer Society—snapped them up immediately. I reached for my bowl with hesitancy, because I have to be extremely careful about what I eat outside my own kitchen. I have severe food allergies to seafood and pine nuts; they make my throat swell and cause what I will refer to delicately as “gastrointestinal distress.” I knew I didn’t have to worry about seafood. “Living food” is vegan. (I hope!) I unwrapped my chopsticks and started poking around in the little bowl. Beautifully wilted bright green bok choy and dark grey pieces of eggplant lay on top of a bed of black grains, which seemed wild-rice-ish. No pine nuts in sight, seemed safe. I dug in. “I’m surprised there’s eggplant in here,” I say, trying to make conversation, because I want to kill myself with anxiety when stuck in a silent group of strangers, “It’s a nightshade, right? I thought macrobiotic people didn’t eat it.” I looked around for a response but my tablemates ignored the comment and continued eating. Oh-kay. I am a dork. I take a bite, avoiding the eggplant as I know some people get a scratchy throat from eggplant that isn’t cooked properly and I don’t want to mistake a scratchy throat for an on-the-verge-of-closing throat as I am not holding any Xanax. The bok choy is all right but it isn’t all that. Everyone is talking about how “incredibly delicious” and “refreshing” the food at this conference has been, how they wish someone would post the recipes on the website. The food reminds me of those little plastic containers of seaweedy mystery you find under the water bottles in a health food store, but I am done commenting on it. I eat a few bites and pass my near-full bowl to a waiter, who looks at me as if I were throwing away a little bowl of gold. As we work through our lunch—brainstorming strategies for improving the experience of dying in America’s hospitals—I feel myself growing spacier and spacier. My writing is getting messy. Is it hot in here? My forehead is beading sweat. I know what is coming. The back of my throat is swelling; my epiglottis is irritated too, so enlarged that if I were to breathe in deep and quick you could hear it flutter. I eat a few grapes to try to clear out the bitter taste of histamine from my mouth, test my swallowing reflex.
Michael Bernard Beckwith—the handsome African American guy with dreads from The Secret video—is leading a meditation. He intones, “So that which is eternally going on becomes the object of our awareness…” The object of my awareness right now is that I might go into anaphylactic shock and barf in front of Donna Karan, Christy Turlington, and Uma Thurman’s dad. “The realm of everything good is revealing itself through this panel, this conference, this gathering…” But not through this lunch! I open my eyes to locate the nearest bathroom. It is located right off the main meeting room, and were I to retch inside it, everyone would hear me. No question embarrasses me more than “Are you OK?” when I am sick, so falling apart in front of this crowd is not an option. Though if I were to fall apart, now would be the time to do it, while they’re all on planet meditation. “Allow us to become more and never less than our true self…” I am about to be one lunch less than myself if I don’t get out of here… I gather up my huge bag and coat and weave through the legs surrounding our table, saying, “Bye! Thank you! I have to run!” Until this moment I haven’t noticed that I’ve essentially lost my voice due to throat swelling. What if I leave and asphyxiate on the fringes of the far West Village? No one will discover me for at least an hour—the conference is scheduled to run until 3 p.m! Walking outside, the fresh air helps for a second. I run toward the nearest Starbucks, which is two blocks away. Outside, three weird guys yell at me, “Save your receipt for a two dollar Metrocard!” What? I pray for no line. There’s a line. There’s a woman with a massive wheelie suitcase who has obviously popped in to do her post-flight grooming. Think of something undisgusting. Vanilla ice cream. Disgusting! What if someone asks me if I’m OK? Morning sickness, that’s a good answer. But then they’ll ask when the baby is due. How depressing. If I ever come back to this Starbucks I’ll have to come up with a miscarriage story.
Come on, lady. I consider throwing up in my coat. I could turn away from the baristas and just hide my face in the black wool, wrap the whole mess up, and toss it neatly into the dumpster outside. But I really like this coat. Once, after a similar anaphylactic experience which, coincidentally, also occurred in the West Village, I threw up into my favorite shawl and tossed it out the window on the West Side Highway. The cab driver didn’t even notice. Mercifully, the post-flight girl is finished rather quickly. Her makeup looks good. I run inside and no matter how hard I push I can’t get the spring-loaded door closed quickly enough. I do so in just enough time to rid myself of a gallon of black mess—caponata!—and feel better instantly. I splash water on my face, put my sunglasses on, and crash into another Urban Zen participant as I career out of the bathroom. She looks at me sympathetically. Probably thinks I’m bulimic. I run out of the Starbucks and the weird guys yell, “Didja save your receipt? We’ve got your Metrocard!” “I didn’t buy anything!” I scream at them in my underwater swollen Disney villain voice. They are frightened of me. Bounding toward the Christopher Street station I pop into another Starbucks and repeat the experience. For goodness sake, I only ate one bite! OK, God, I promise to be more openhearted when it comes to Zen fashionistas. I’ve learned my lesson. But tomorrow I’m going on a purifying fast.