"Excuse me, that isn't coffee in your Starbucks cup, is it?" I feel a hand on my shoulder and turn to see a spritely gray-haired woman wearing a staff badge hovering behind me.
"Actually, it is," I mutter, swallowing the words with a swig of fresh, foamy latte.
"You'll understand if I ask you to remove it from the room, won't you? Some of the people here who are fasting find the smell disturbing."
"Oh, of course," I stammer, though I'm sure I'm not the only culprit.
I'm attending a conference where most of the 300-plus participants are on a juice fast, but it's hard to believe that the dozens of attendees I've seen carrying the familiar white cups haven't experienced a weak moment like mine. The only beverages permitted here are juice, water, and tea.
My best friend, sitting beside me, suppresses a giggle as she hands over her cup. I shuffle, head down, out of the conference room. I'd known that finding inner peace was not going to be easy. But did it have to happen without caffeine?
What Would Oprah Drink?
Anneliese and I became fast friends while teaching English in Japan eight years ago. She lives in Mexico City now, and I call Oakland home. While we conduct marathon phone sessions weekly, until convening at this airport hotel in Los Angeles for a New Year's Mental Cleanse hosted by the spiritual guru and bestselling author Byron Katie, we hadn't seen one another for nearly two years.
Our traveling history smacks of the exotic: exploring tranquil temples in Kyoto, riding rusty bikes to the beach in Vietnam, hitching a ride to the rice-paddied Balinese countryside, washing down grilled fish with tangy micheladas at beachside cafés in Zihuatanejo. When we're together we eat, drink, laugh, dance and make the kind of carefree spectacle of ourselves that only two best friends can. Needless to say, we rarely sit still. So how did we wind up on a foodless meditative retreat? A few weeks ago, Anneliese announced that she was going to L.A. for the conference; she was a big Byron Katie fan. I knew nothing about Katie, but promptly invited myself along. Why not?
It was only after snagging a flight from San Francisco on Virgin America for just $119 round trip and registering for the $100-a-day conference that I got around to googling Katie. Her brand of self-helpism, which she founded in the mid-1980s and calls The Work, centers on asking oneself four questions about a particular feeling or belief: Is it true? Can you absolutely know that it's true? How do you react, and what happens, when you believe that thought? And finally, who would you be without the thought? The next step is to turn the thought or belief around—to find examples of how it's not true.
Before I leave, I watch a video of Katie talking to Oprah Winfrey, who laments that she's too fat and that she's frustrated with family members for taking advantage of her financially. Deep stuff. But that only creates more anxiety for me: What if I never get past worry lite? I fear my beliefs will be more along the lines of "Anneliese and I should be out dancing, scarfing down pad Thai, and drinking margaritas instead of stuck in this bland fluorescent-lit conference room all day!"