‘The human body is the best picture of the human soul.’ Ludwig Wittgenstein
‘Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own’ 1 Corinthians 6:19
I long since discovered that – like us all – I was born to be a vessel for something greater than myself.
And like most of us, I had spent the first half of my life confused as to what that might be, pouring in various substances and behaviours to get the desired result.
The ubiquitous mistake, of course, is to fail to empty and cleanse the vessel in preparation for that which seeks to enter.
One Sufi master put it this way: ’When I go out, He comes in.’ The injunction is clear – get out of your own way.
And why not, for who wouldn’t want to be penetrated by The Holy Spirit, which promises the ultimate joy – a kiss on the inside of your own heart?
As a young man, I was given devastating glimpses of what was possible, moments of utter bliss that were pure gifts and a joy that could not readily be put into words.
The trap is to spend one’s life chasing that one holy instant rather than accepting it with gratitude, knowing it is a herald for things to come and a peace that passes all understanding.
Given that, it would be sensible to put my own house in order.
But like many of us, my body had its own plans, which ran counter to my varied attempts to corral it under my control.
Looking back on my 55 years – and it’s a big ask for a man to admit this – I ran, pumped weights, shed three stone in three months boxing, took up various martial arts, dropped various martial arts, drank pukey powders, went weight watching, walked The Camino and of course, joined gyms the length and breadth of Britain.
I don’t think I have been to the latest one for months, with more pounds going out than there are coming off. What was missing, of course, were consistent good habits and regular daily disciplines.
Yet I seem to be seasonal and rhythmic – although not in a good way.
It used to be easy. In my 20s, I ran and yomped across the Malverns with a guy from the SAS. At 40, I boxed with other yuppies in Ladbroke Grove, both with heroic turnarounds.
At the end of last year, I began Ju Jitsu, but was soon out of action when the instructor landed on my rib cage with an almighty crunch.
Down the years, I had two girlfriends who were into raw food and, for a time, I would clean up my act. But try as I might, I would always return to couch surfing with an assortment of favourite, salty snacks.
The low point came when I found myself brushing my teeth with my own urine and realized the pendulum may have swung too far the other way.
The simplicity of moderation had always passed me by but the one thing I actually enjoyed was juicing. I started with a 30-day juice fast with raw foodie number one and then completed a 60-day fast on my own in 2015.
I felt vitalized, alive, marvelous.
But in the past two years, my blood pressure and my cholesterol had crept up as my good habits slowly began to unwind. When my iron levels went down, I had tubes inserted both ends to check for cancer.
It was clearly time for a re-think, although there remains no satisfying explanation for my iron deficiency and luckily no cancer.
I had heard about Vital Detox through a superb herbalist, Fiona Milligan, who had begun to despair of my lack of interest in my own body and quite fairly had me pegged as a hopeless case. She had been a key member of the staff team since it began life in Wales.
I turned up for the week at Middlewick outside Glastonbury – now luckily a stone’s throw from me – at the end of January. I had paid, spent three weeks with the flu, and had fallen out of the shower, tearing a cartilage, the day before arrival.
Crutches never look good on a detox but I wasn’t alone. We arrived in various states of health and, swaddled in blankets for morning meditation, turned the place into something resembling a care home with funk.
Groups don’t faze me. Having done and run so many over the years, I tend to stand back (sit back in this case) and pace myself, avoiding the usual temptation to over-talk as people get to know one another.
The warm, allowing atmosphere created by the staff team grants an immediate ease and there is an attention to detail that comes from a genuine love of human beings. (Founder Anna Tolson suggested comfrey oil for my knee and it appeared the next day via someone’s visit to Glastonbury.)
It slowly became clear there was something unusual going on: a business not motivated to make zillions but to reach people in a deeply personal and heart-centred way.
The regimen was strict, not rigid with meditation at 8am and juices and broths at 9am, 12 noon, 3pm, 6pm and 8pm, although everything was optional, including the excellent talks with Fiona, Fran, Barbara, and Annie. If we wanted food, said Anna, food would be provided.
What has been achieved and what is so key to healing – as any good therapist knows – is an emotional container that provides a safety that will allow unconscious material to appear.
Detox does not just mean of the body but the mind and the emotions too and all 26 participants had individual process sessions with members of the team, who have various skills.
I missed using the swimming pool but received a supremely soothing massage from Rachel and a less comfortable yet important abdominal massage with Andrew.
But there was one thing I was not looking forward to – the self-administered colonics known as colemas. I am not overly familiar with having things inserted into me (although my recent colonoscopy had given me fair warning) and I prevaricated for the first few days.
Finally, I hopped up to Fiona and asked for help. She set up the various paraphernalia, including a bucket of water above my head, and left me to it. While I couldn’t say I enjoyed it, I was aware of its importance so I gritted my teeth and surrendered.
By day four, the process was considerably more hardcore than when I started. I was now on daily colemas; the juices were now almost utterly devoid of fruit and I couldn’t wait for the day when there was more going into my mouth than out through my posterior.
Finally, we came out of the fast into raw food and a feast for the senses. People started to notice I had dropped both weight – and crutches – and had that famous fasting glow. I was clear skinned and ready to go.
A month on and now off wheat, dairy and sugar with the odd minor relapse, I turned up at the staff cottage to speak with Anna.
The child of a bohemian mother, after an ‘alternative’ upbringing she had trained as a homeopath but struggled, like many seekers, with what she calls ‘existential angst’, that wrestle to be here, on this earth, in a human body.
She had attempted to heal that split (I call it the wound of the Chiron in Pisces generation) through relationship and had finally reached a devastating rock bottom after another painful ending.
But victory came when her mother gave her Brandon Bays’ book The Journey: she qualified as a practitioner in a few months after chasing seminars around the globe. She condensed the process while working for another detox business and the rest is history.
‘It was a miracle and it was exhausting, but the results of combining detox and journeying were extraordinary. People are so emotionally available because they are so stripped bare.
I had been depressed my whole life not wanting to be here. I went into my rage and have never been depressed since.’
The effect on her relationships was that they transformed from being traumatic to supportive.
With a push from a client, she then set up her own team in Cardigan, before finally moving the centre to Somerset, her intent to create a happy team:
‘My driving force was to do this job but with people who loved each other. We would become an intentional family.’
One week a month that family lives on site in the lee of Glastonbury’s famous Tor and brings its well-being and care to others.
I had known that a session from home with a practitioner or even a series of sessions would not be enough to get me on track. I needed a new foundation.
Happily, I found it.
For more information visit: www.vitaldetox.com