Mindful of the diet when it comes to the crunch

Achieving mindfulness sounds delightful, but it is hard work getting there

Dan Harris claims to be 10 per cent happier after five years of searching for something that would calm the yammering in his head. Photograph: Cindy Ord/Getty Images

Dan Harris claims to be 10 per cent happier after five years of searching for something that would calm the yammering in his head. Photograph: Cindy Ord/Getty Images


Buddhists believe that if you are really in tune with yourself and able to live in the moment, all these wonderful thoughts and sounds zing in and out of your consciousness in glorious Technicolour with Dolby surround sound. The faintest fluttering of wings, the gentle caress of a breeze, the hairs rising on one’s arm can become momentous moments that are suddenly gone, to be replaced by other images, thoughts and fancies that are just as fascinating and fleeting.

It sounds utterly delightful, but it’s hard work to get to that point. Dan Harris, an anchorman with ABC News, makes it sound especially hard in his best-selling book about discovering mindfulness, 10% Happier. Ten per cent happier is what he claims to be after five years of searching for something that would calm the yammering in his head and help him get on in a newsroom full of suave bosses and hungry, younger men with full heads of hair just as Harris’s had begun to recede.

Starting with Eckhart Tolle and working through Deepak Chopra and any number of smart New York psychiatrists, Harris ends up where he never thought he would be – at a meditation festival in California, full of middle-aged people wearing socks and sandals. It helps, and finally Harris finds a formula he can live with to calm his ego, and to help others along the way, thanks to some good advice from the Dalai Lama.


Tempting territory

Mindfulness is everywhere now – Harris finds it being used in the US army, on Wall Street, in Silicon Valley and in mainstream medicine. He’s a convincing writer and it’s tempting territory. The idea that you can begin to hear and see things more clearly by changing your habits really resonates with me this week on account of my juice detox diet. Oh, the usual reasons for embarking on this: seeing a photograph taken from an unfortunate angle and having to fight my way into a pair of jeans that used to be baggy.

Bad habits had been slipping in: grilled halloumi, burger mayonnaise, a nice wine called Touraine (which I believe is known as the poor man’s Sancerre in the trade; whatever, it’s very nice).

All this had led to me having to collect a bag of juices labelled “breakfast”, “lunch” and “dinner” on a Monday morning. Let me read you the contents of lunch: cucumber, apple, pineapple, spinach, avocado, wheatgrass, lime, spirulina. All that juiced down to a half litre of what my children would call “absolute ming”. It tastes pretty dreadful.

Breakfast is similar to lunch, and dinner is mostly beetroot. If you’re absolutely starving you can have a stick of celery: hurray.


A crisp interruption

But after a couple of days of drinking these juices, something happens. One afternoon I become aware of this deep crunching noise from across the floor of our open-plan office. Miriam in marketing is eating a bag of crisps. I can hear every single crisp being crunched down and swallowed, and this with all the usual office noise going on around us. I’ve never been so aware of a bag of crisps in my life, and the eating of it seems to go on forever. They sound like big, heavy, artisan crisps to my untrained ear, but they may have been Kings from the canteen.

Soon I am tuning in to other desks, hearing forks chiming against plates and the incredibly loud rustle of sandwich paper. Then, at a meeting, a vast platter of biscuits lands on the table. The part of my brain that isn’t engrossed in Q4 planning begins to sort them according to their smell. The chocolate-covered Polos dominate for a while, but then I can distinguish the melting chocolate ends of the Viennese fancies, and the richer aroma of those monsters that are “enrobed” with dark chocolate. It is interesting to be so aware of biscuits without feeling the need to clear the plate.

The juice detox is the brainchild of Noeleen, who beats people into shape for a living. Or trains them, I should say. Her clients are mostly businessmen, and in the summer things tend to go to pot with them too. “Noeleen, you’ll kill me. I couldn’t stop eating the ice cream,” said one, stepping back on the treadmill after his holiday in Portugal. Another stood looking in the mirror at the evidence of six months’ work undone by two unfettered weeks in France. “Will you look at that,” he said, with a certain amount of pride.

Noeleen, whippet-like in her black Lycra, tells him he can go easy that day. She allows everyone their lapse, but then comes the tough love and the juice. I’ll let you know how I get on.

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