From time to time in this space, I make mention of my mid-to-late 20s, when things went really wrong with my body and health—in large part due to years of excessive exercise and deficient eating.
(For those newer to my story, that was back when I was a vegetarian sugar and cardio addict, before embracing a primal eating pattern in my 30s).
Lately, a particular chapter in that journey—in this journey—has been rising to the surface.
It goes this way.
One summer at the worst of things, when I was distraught, despairing and not understanding what was happening to a body that’d long seemed so reliable, so indestructible—I took off for Mongolia.
On a whim and on my own. Not telling anyone where I was headed. Dropping all my savings into the first flight leaving Reagan National.
No one had answers for me at home, and I was collapsed in tears on my kitchen floor.
So I just left. Not forever—but for two weeks in a place full of big spaces and expansive silence. A place where I could listen deeply and hopefully start to heal.
Most of that time, I stayed alone in a yurt (or ger) on Khuvsgul Lake, a long, rough drive from the capital and far-removed from English speakers, Internet, cell reception and familiar foods.
Though still vegetarian at the time, there it wasn’t an option.
I ate what was available during summer in rural Mongolia: watery milk tea, tough stew meat (with a bite of potato or carrot when I was lucky), strong-tasting yoghurt stored in a metal pail at room temperature, and milk curds dried by the sun.
During those two weeks at least, I went from vegetarian sugar-carb junkie to real-deal primal.
I also took note of people’s care—indeed, reverence—for their animals. An intimate, sacred, circle-of-life connection between people, beasts, food and land infused my surrounds.
In those surrounds, I walked a lot—slowly, in solitude, around the massive, impossibly blue lake.
Though I’d spent years prior running every day, at that time walking was the only movement my body could manage.
So I walked and walked and walked some more, softly repeating a healing mantra in Sanskrit as my feet touched ground and kept going.
I also meditated. And slept.
Each night, I’d fall asleep bundled in thick, multicolored quilts on a low cot lining the rounded yurt wall, a fire lit in the room’s center with smoke rising through a hole above.
The round space would grow cold as the fire dwindled, but each morning I’d awaken to the sounds of a young woman relighting it just before dawn.
Dozing in the growing light, I’d feel the fire’s warmth spread, nudging me out of sleep and into consciousness.
Did this trip heal me?
No. But it was a beginning.
Restoration of health was still years away—as was releasing my headstrong attachment to a vegetarian identity.
But that simple, primal diet of two weeks manifested immediate, obvious benefits: fingernails that grew stronger and stopped peeling…alleviation of chronic injuries and places of pain…a restored sense of focus, energy and hope.
And that time listening—to my body, mind, heart and spirit—was pivotal in the course of things.
Soon after returning to DC, I left again—this time “for good,” moving back to Thailand (where I’d lived previously and knew I could get daily treatments from my Chinese Medicine doctor).
But that’s another chapter for another time…
For now, an explanation . . . and an offering.
First, an explanation.
Why are these beginnings of my journey resurfacing at present? Why write this rather unusual post now?
1. A book.
A few weeks ago, I chose a novel off my bookshelf: Self, by Yann Martel. I gotten the worn copy in Mongolia, where another traveller had left it behind.
It’s fantastic in its own right. But for me, this physical copy of the book, along with its words and story, are intimately intertwined with my first read, on a cot in a yurt at a pivotal time.
2. My grandmother.
My maternal grandmother and I are not especially close. Indeed, there were years of my younger life when thoughts of her filled me with anger.
But she has an indomitable “will” in the Chinese Medicine sense of zhi—a will to survive and to persevere.
One night in Mongolia, as I lay alone, frightened and in pain in my yurt, her presence was suddenly there with me. Despite past places of anger, she now appeared as a source of deep, visceral, ancestrally connected protection, comfort, solace, zhi.
I was unexpectedly filled with immense gratitude—for my grandmother, for her mother, for my mother…for the whole line of very strong women who undoubtedly came before. I was part of them. I inherited their strength.
So my grandmother was there, at the beginning of my journey. And now, many years later, she’s not doing so well. She had a stroke. Things are changing. She—and her role in my story—are on my mind.
Second, an offering.
Specifically, I offer you glimpses from journals during that long-ago chapter, one long before studying Chinese Medicine and creating Alchemist Eating.
These are not from my now self—and, really, are not terribly kind to my then self.
But they reflect where I was. And the start of things.
With those glimpses of my past and my ongoing journey, I’ll bring this meandering post to a close.
I know it’s not the usual fare here. But perhaps something in its midst will be a source of healing. Of hope.
I welcome your feedback around whether this sort thing interests you…and invite you to share healing stories of your own in the comments.
Seeking support in your own journey with health and healing?
The heart of why I do this work is because I want to offer others the sort of caring, skillful guidance I could have used long ago.