“Listen to your body,” I heard the yoga instructor say. At that moment my body was telling me it would rather be in bed, but I was awake at the 7AM yoga session at an ashram in northern India. The rural mountain setting was gorgeous and far from Delhi’s polluted air and insane hustle. I wasn’t too crazy about yoga, but I wanted to give this ten-day silent retreat a good effort.
The teachers exhorted us to not only listen to our bodies, but to pay attention to our inner worlds in a new way. Complete silence was required: no talking. We were also asked to refrain from communicating with each other in any visual way: no interactive facial expressions, no furtive glances, and no saying hello with the eyes. There was no reading, no computers and no cell phones. The objective was to create a still and continuous focus on the workings of the inner life. We were to seek an experience of ourselves much less distracted by sensory input or even language in thought.
I quickly became aware of how difficult this was. To “sit” with myself minus my usual diversions was highly uncomfortable at first. No music, no conversation, no little chocolate donuts; nothing to soothe and divert. No thing to pay attention to except my undistracted self.
After a few days of struggle, I was quite startled by a palpable and delightful sense of freedom from my usual worries. The pressurized concerns normally so present with me in the U.S. – career stress, making enough money, rushing around, paying bills – seemed very far away. What a sweet relief it was to have detachment instead of distraction, and I wanted it to continue.
I was reminded of this experience while at a recent lunchtime gathering of the excellent St. John’s College RAs. They were discussing the problem of puke; what to do about the voluminous quantities of puke they had to deal with from students’ drinking activities. Puke in the bathroom, puke on the carpet, puke in the common areas. It seems puke is almost everywhere.
None of the RAs spoke as if this were unusual. Regular encounters with errant puke may be so common as to be considered normal at the College. It’s not that I’m surprised that drinking and puking go together; I’ve seen enough of both to last a lifetime. But it’s just plain appalling that any reasonable person would regard puking as an acceptable aspect of their recreational routine.
Puking is a violent ejection of destructive matter from the body. When someone pukes, their body is speaking very loud and clear. It’s saying to the substance consumed: get out and don’t come back. The loathsome reality of this is not hard to understand. Given that this aversion reaction is designed to give us a visceral deterrent to consume such things again, why does anyone voluntarily repeat the experience?
Students whose drinking produces this kind of violent retching are incapable or unwilling to integrate their drinking decisions with the pursuit of their better selves. How much puke do we have to look at, smell and clean up before we start listening to our bodies? Better still, why not listen more carefully to our inner worlds, our own souls’ needs; detaching from what impedes us instead of merely distracting our selves with intoxicants?