© Terry Richardson
In Charnay, through the months of winter and spring, I have been watching the transformation of the garden. Plants and bushes I'd initially perceived as leafy evergreens, have burst into different kinds of white flowers —magnolia, camellia, jasmine and lilac. The cycles of life in Nature are endlessly fascinating when I am still enough to appreciate them. My mind, however, has suddenly been overtaken with thoughts of how to achieve a ‘bikini body’! As though on cue, the annual ritual appears. Everywhere I look in the media, people are obsessed. Distracted away from my garden, I have been wondering how to lose the half stone I managed to put on over the winter months, and most definitely not looking forward to the prospect of having the seams of my summer dresses pulling tight against my torso.
Simultaneously, I've been baffled by this obsession about weight, and also the weight of obsession… the fact that I cannot simply accept the way I look.
Hence, in May, I decided to do a cleanse. It entailed drinking a concoction of lemon juice, maple syrup, cayenne pepper and hot water, for a set number of days. Just this and nothing else.
Admittedly, this particular ‘lemonade’ cleanse is extreme. I first did it many years ago, and although I am still rather dubious of the multitude of health benefits advocated by its creator, I did feel my digestive system could do with a rest. Of course, as I do every year, I imagined it would be the fast and easy way to lose weight for the summer, and that this time, I would absolutely not put the weight back on!
Such are the good intentions we force upon ourselves, only to put the weight back on, plus some, when we reward ourselves with copious glasses of wine and chips on holiday. This delusional virtue trap doesn't make sense until we remember the consumer environment we live in, which encourages us to buy pills and powders in order to lose weight, then buy new clothes to show off our ‘bikini body,’ then buy junk food to indulge in while on holiday, which then means the weight comes back on and we have to buy bigger size clothes to wear, and then, after a depressing winter, we buy a gym membership in the New Year in order to lose the weight again… and thus, we're back at square one!
I did the lemonade cleanse for a week. This time, however, it provided me with an altogether more profound experience. The most enduring and insistent feeling I had during the whole time was boredom. I was utterly and depressingly bored! After the initial days of complaining non-stop how bored I was, I realised that what I called ‘boredom’ was, in fact, the void where I would usually put food. Without the distraction of automatically filling the void with food, I was forced to simply be with myself, and with the ‘emptiness’ of who I was.
Looking back on the periods in my life when I put on weight, it was usually when I was not engaged enough in the doing or producing of my various projects (related to work, home, or other creative endeavours). I ate more when I was bored, and weirdly enough, it was possible to be bored no matter how busy my days were.
This is the situation I was currently facing: as I no longer work in a corporate job, where I am required to be in the office at 9.00am, my motivation to wake up in the morning is in order to eat breakfast. Once breakfast is finished, I keep myself occupied with various administrative tasks before it's time for lunch. Thus, the afternoon passes too, until it is time to eat dinner, after which I anticipate going to bed so I can wake up to eat breakfast and start the cycle all over again. Food is the light of my life and marks the passing of each day like a clock. I am addicted to the everlasting consumption of food, with no thought of listening to the actual needs of my body, nor truly appreciating the abundance and diversity of foods available to me in the society in which I live.
How many of us who living in a busy city, running from one meeting to the next, worrying about our social media streams and buying the latest iPhone, stop to wonder at the miracle of how we get our food? The logistics of growing fruit and vegetables, feeding animals, harvesting, preparing and transporting fresh food to the centre of a metropolis such as London, every day, is complicated! Yet, we gorge on food and drink (or vice-versa, starve ourselves at the opposite extreme) without any awareness of what we are consuming. Ask yourself, when did you last appreciate the fact that you don't have to walk 12 miles in the heat for a bucket of water and a bowl of rice?
Since I completed the cleanse, I've been forced to notice that my body, in reality, needs only half of what I perceive as a ‘normal’ portion. The rest is simply buying into the programmed, pre-historic mentality of scarcity, imagining that I have to ‘store’ food in case I don't eat for several days. Then, I wonder, when was the last time I had to hunt for a week across the plains in order to kill my next meal?
Food is a fundamental human need, however, satisfying our needs is somewhat more complicated. We are not simply animals, who need sustenance (calorific energy). We have emotional and spiritual needs too. In the body-spirit-intellect universe, the body is just one third of the equation. When I overeat, I notice how terrible I feel (stuffed, bloated, tired, achy, etc.), and the extra weight I carry is like feeding my spirit and intellect with abusive substances. I drown myself in the consumer mentality, filling up the void, instead of nurturing and developing my spirit and intellect to create balance between all three aspects. Balance is the key reason why I've chosen a vocation to inspire people in taking up a creative practice. Just yesterday, a client said to me, ‘When I play my violin, everything else falls into place.’