On the fourth day of the fast, I awoke feeling refreshed, rested, clear-headed, and actually bubbling with energy—mental and physical energy—while at the same time experiencing a pervasive sense of peace. Hunger had mysteriously disappeared. I had no discomfort anywhere in my body.
The world looked different to me. The colors looked brighter. The air smelled pure and intoxicating. I felt alive in a way that was new to me. Strange and wondrous feelings filled my mind and body. Everything in my life and in the world felt perfect just the way it was, no matter what. There was nothing to fix—not even the heinous things in life, like the Vietnam War.
Streams of love coursed through my being. The love that I felt was a different kind of love, impersonal and unconditional, a love for everything, everybody, every living and nonliving thing. No boundaries separated them from me. The sky outside, the water in the pitcher on the nightstand, the tree on the other side of my window, the mountains on the horizon, the chair next to the desk—I was all of them and they were me.
Tears of love and gratitude for life flowed down my cheeks as my hands went spontaneously to my heart, one hand over the other. My chest burst right open from intense feelings of love and ecstasy.
With these expanded feelings came a sense that I knew everything that had ever occurred in the world in the past and that I already knew the future. There was nothing I didn’t know because the past and the future merged within me in the present moment. With certainty I knew the contents of everyone’s mind and heart without even knowing them.
This must be what it feels like to be God. Will I be condemned to Hell if I ever admit I had feelings of being like God? Is it sacrilegious? Will people think I’m psychotic? Do I ever dare tell anyone what happened?
Fortunately I easily let go of my logical, skeptical brain and resisted the temptation to talk myself out of what I was experiencing so vividly, even if it lay beyond reason and the accepted version of reality.
In college I had heard people talk about having these kinds of blissful, “oneness” experiences, but they were usually drug-induced. Mine was starvation induced.
I lay on my bed for hours, mesmerized by the experience, similar to watching a gripping movie on the edge of my seat. I got my very first glimpse into the world of the spirit, beyond the veil that separates us.
I spent the whole rest of the day in an altered state, a parallel universe that I never wanted to leave. At some point, it dawned on me that if I didn’t record the experience in my diary, I would never believe this experience had actually happened as the memory of it faded over time. I would think that I had imagined everything that occurred.
And how is anyone going to believe me when I tell them what happened?
When I read my diary entry years later, my words sounded ecstatic and incoherent. But the entry clearly conveyed that I was in the middle of what would become a profoundly life-changing, mind and heart-expanding experience.
The morning of the fifth day, I awoke to a continued, but less intense state of expanded and altered perception, without hunger or discomfort. My energy was moderately good. When Uncle Ernst came by to check on me, I gave him a slightly censored thumbnail sketch of the unusual experiences I had, too embarrassed to reveal the full extent of the wondrous inner events for fear of sounding crazy.
Ernst looked at my tongue and felt my pulses. “Aha. Very good. Yes. Very good. Hmm. It’s time for you to go outside and walk in the mountains. I will make arrangements for you to walk with another patient.” He bowed slightly forward in a gesture of respect, gave me a little lipless smile with a twinkle in his greenish blue eyes, then he left the room to continue on his daily rounds at the nearby hotel within walking distance. The hotel reserved lodging exclusively for Dr. Bauer’s patients. The overflow of patients from out of town found lodging in private homes where their medical needs could be accommodated.
Shortly after Ernst’s visit, Helen knocked on the door and said that a young French woman, Marie Madeleine, would be waiting for me downstairs in an hour to go hiking in the Alps together. Helen gave me a jar of water and a little rucksack to take up the mountain.
How am I possibly going to be able to hike up a mountain after not eating for five days? Will power and determination can only go so far.
Marie Madeleine was beautiful with dark hair and olive skin and clear, sparkling green eyes. She was slightly older than I, devoutly Catholic and from a rural area of France. She spoke only rudimentary English, so we kept our conversation in French. She told me that she had some terrible, supposedly incurable disease I had never heard of before and that Uncle Ernst had helped her get better. When she experienced a relapse of her symptoms years later, she came back to Switzerland to do the fasting cure and raw foods diet for a second time. We had both been fasting for five days.
I expressed to Marie Madeleine my concern that I would not be able to hike up a mountain in my current state. She reassured me that the place we were going would not require much hiking. We would take an aerial tram up the mountain and then walk along a mountain path to an alpine lake.
It was a beautiful, pristine sunny day. I was still in a mildly expanded state of consciousness. I continued to feel unconditional love for all beings. Riding in the tram up the mountain, I had the sense that I understood what was in the minds and hearts of each of the passengers. I knew their past and I knew their future—not all the details, just a general sense of knowing.
Am I delusional? Is what I’m feeling real? It sure feels real.
Marie Madeleine and I walked slowly, in silence, for about a half hour along a vertiginous mountain path, lined with low growing pink heather, until we came to a breathtaking alpine meadow full of mountain flowers blooming with all their hearts in joyful splashes of colors. A few of the flowers I recognized, like mountain arnica and calendula with their yellow, daisy-like appearance, the cobalt blue gentians, the purple thyme draping itself over the rocks, and the iconic white edelweiss. The fields of flowers stretched in all directions. The scene was so exquisitely beautiful that it was almost painful.
I wonder if a person can get a heart attack from being overjoyed. What if my heart literally explodes from being so happy? The papers will report, “American girl found dead in the Alps. The cause of death determined to be an overdose of happiness.”
We slowly meandered along the narrow path through the flowers until we came to a tiny alpine lake, our destination. It was mid-afternoon and warm. Without hesitation, Marie Madeleine took off every single piece of her clothing as I looked on with curiosity. She lay on the ground completely naked, seemingly oblivious to the possibility that a hiker might see her. I lay on the ground a few feet from her with my clothes on. Ten minutes later, my clothes came off too. We both lay spread eagled on the ground, looking up at the sky in reverent silence. I wanted to stay forever.
When the sun went down on the horizon, we reluctantly put our clothes on and headed back to catch the last tram going down the mountain.
The sixth day I awoke with the same sense of wellbeing, without hunger or discomfort, but the energy level had dropped. When Uncle Ernst came by to do his morning rounds, I told him about my excursion in the mountains and expressed an interest in going again while I still had some energy. He invited me to join him on his weekend hike in the mountains the next day. I eagerly accepted.
I spent most of that day walking along the river than runs through the town of Landquart and reading from the books that Ernst had left for me in my room. Intense hunger for information about this strange new world I had entered kept me focused on the reading material, although I frequently needed to doze off between chapters. With any extra little bursts of energy, I did a few minutes of yoga throughout the day, including standing on my head. Yoga had become a daily practice since learning it in college. I was struck by how much more flexible I had become since fasting.
When I strolled into town in the afternoon, I bought some postcards with beautiful pictures of the Swiss Alps to send to my parents and to a few friends. I even sent a letter to my very first boyfriend, Daniel in Paris, apologizing for my behavior after I left Europe to go to college in the US and stopped all contact with him. I asked for his forgiveness.
The seventh day fell on a Sunday. I awoke feeling good, but without the intense high I had experienced over the last three days. Uncle Ernst made his rounds on his patients and then came to fetch me for our hike. He had on his knickers and knee socks, a rucksack on his back and a walking stick in his hand. I, on the other hand, was not well equipped, but I didn’t worry about it. At least I had a rain jacket to bring along for the afternoon showers.
We walked briskly to the train station down the road from his house and got on the next train headed for the nearby mountains. It was a short ride to our stop. From there we took a bus part way up the mountain to the trailhead. The scenery was spectacular.
I wonder if I’ll be able to keep up with Uncle Ernst. I’m strong, but I haven’t eaten anything in a week and am beginning to feel weak. Well, he’s 56 and I’m 21. So, maybe I can keep up since he’s an old man.
We hiked along a path, following the contour of a mountain meadow that cut across the slope of a tall mountain. It was exhilarating to be so close to the tops of the snow-covered peaks. Within a few minutes of arriving in this paradise, I was out of breath and lightheaded and had to sit down. Ernst was patient with me and told me to walk more slowly, in a measured way, one foot in front of the other, keeping up a steady but slow pace. In the beginning, we mostly walked in silence. I was too winded to even attempt to fill the welcomed silence with talk.
Eventually we stopped for “lunch” which meant I drank two quarts of water while Ernst slowly ate a handful of nuts, one by one. I watched closely, tracking each nut as it entered Ernst’s mouth. Within an instant, saliva filled my mouth. It was the first time in a few days that I felt hunger. The gnawing sensation in my stomach returned as the gastric juices started to flow again.
How can Ernst live on such a small amount of food? How does he have the will power to stay on this kind of a diet? How does he have so much energy? Where does it come from? Doesn’t he miss all the delicious things that normal people eat?
As the day progressed, I needed more frequent and longer rest stops, no matter how slowly I walked. During the rest stops, Ernst started talking to me in more depth. He spoke in his usual soft voice, barely louder than a whisper, punctuated by his nervous laugh. He seemed almost pathologically shy, as if it was an effort to be around people.
I asked Ernst why he decided to go into medicine. Did he do it just because his father— the grandfather I never knew—had been a doctor? He said no, he had made his own choice for his own reasons. He talked about his painfully cruel and abusive childhood growing up, which I already knew about from my mother who was also the recipient of the same harsh treatment. Ernst gave some heart-rending examples of what it was like for him as a small child after his beloved mother died when he was two years old.
For Christmas one year, when Ernst was four years old, his parents gave him a wooden rocking horse that he didn’t want. His stepmother beat him because he didn’t show appreciation and didn’t say “thank you” on his own, spontaneously.
Around that same period of time his stepmother locked him out of the house for punishment for something Ernst could no longer remember he did. Neighbors who came to visit found little Ernstli on the steps at the back door, in the snow, shivering, with only his shorts and a shirt on.
No wonder Ernst is so awkward around people and ill at ease. And shy. He’s been brutalized. And no wonder he’s not married and has no close relationships with anyone beyond his devoted and grateful patients. He’s married to his medical practice. I bet he’s never had sex in his life.
I asked Ernst if he was bitter and angry with his stepmother for torturing him and his sister—my mother—and angry with his father for not protecting them since he was doctoring most of the time in his clinic and absent from his children’s day to day life. Ernst said no, he had no anger.
He said that he forgave everyone who hurt him and was grateful because it was precisely the pain from his childhood that made him want to help others who were suffering. He chose medicine as a means to fulfill his desire to relieve suffering because that’s the field that he was most familiar with from having grown up with his father’s clinic downstairs in his childhood home.
How can he forgive something so terrible? And be grateful for it? How exactly did he convert that torture into wanting to help others? This is like something from the Bible, like something Jesus would do. I think I’m in the presence of a very great and humble man. And I’m his niece. I’m so lucky. I hope he’ll let me be his student.
Ernst said that if I’d like to join him the following weekend for another excursion, it would be a pleasure for him. I agreed with enthusiasm. After I went back to my room, I realized the outing would fall on the last day of the fast. I doubted I would be able to participate in anything at that point due to weakness.
On days eight through twelve I was significantly less energetic, verging on weakness and lethargy, but without hunger. Morale was good. I had lost almost 18 pounds so far. Although I was of normal weight in college, I loved feeling exceptionally lean, without a trace of fat. At least once a day in my room I slowly ran my hands over my whole body and enjoyed the way it felt. The image reflecting back to me from the mirror looked quite different from the Antioch College graduate who showed up at the train station not that long before.
That girl had headaches, mood swings, energy swings, episodes of congestion without an obvious explanation, low-grade anxiety, and bloating and swelling after certain meals. And she was sometimes way too serious. This girl in the mirror was not only lean and tan, she was relaxed and looked happy and peaceful and loved to laugh and smile. You could see in the mirror’s reflection a light shining from the inside.
Must be all those enemas and saunas that made me sparkling clean on the inside. Maybe I was toxic after all.
I was tired of staying in my room and reading. Helen suggested that I go to the hotel where some of Ernst’s patients stayed and talk to them and listen to their interesting stories. She said that I would learn much about Ernst and his treatments just by listening to the patients share their experiences.
The staff at the hotel had been trained to make raw meals according to Uncle Ernst’s specifications. The patients told me that the meals were delicious. I couldn’t wait to try out this new way of eating. But, for now, while I fasted, I made sure that I didn’t show up at mealtimes. That would have been too tempting.
Helen had told some of the patients ahead of time that Doktor Bauer’s niece from America wanted to talk to them to learn more about what he did, his methods, the diseases he had treated successfully, and just in general what it felt like to do the fasting cure.
Now I could finally fulfill my fantasy of being an investigative journalist during my stay in Switzerland. Since Ernst was unavailable most of the time, as well as being introverted and not very talkative, I would put my efforts into interviewing his patients as the next best thing.
I went to the sitting room with notebook and pen in hand. I looked around for a friendly face. I saw a woman beaming at me with a broad smile from the other side of the room. She must have guessed I was Doktor Bauer’s niece from America. Her name was Frau Steuben. She told me to call her Hilda. She has that same light shining out of her face that I saw in the mirror. She must have cleaned herself out to get that light. She was from Germany and spoke a little English. The interview switched back and forth from English to German.
Hilda had intestinal cancer. She had tried “Schulmedizin,” or school medicine—the European way of saying conventional, mainstream medicine—including surgery and chemotherapy. But the tumors came back and spread throughout her body. Her doctors told her that her prognosis was poor, that she probably wouldn’t live much longer, and that she needed to get her affairs in order. She told me that she wasn’t ready to die and that she had things she wanted to do with her life.
Hilda heard about Doktor Bauer and his reputation for helping people with terminal diseases. Doktor Bauer said that she would have to fast for 21 days, given the gravity of her condition. She became extremely weak and emaciated throughout the three weeks and spent most of the time sleeping in bed when she wasn’t giving herself the requisite enemas.
At the time of the interview, Hilda had been eating raw food for two and a half weeks. She said that she felt better than she ever had in her entire life. I wanted to hear more about what Uncle Ernst did with her in terms of treatment, but by this time I was exhausted and weak. It was time for me to slowly walk back to my room and lie down.
The following day, I went back to see Hilda and finish my interview with her. She said that Doktor Bauer gave her regular acupuncture treatments during her fast and also did something called “Blut Waschung” in which a pint of her blood was taken out of her veins and run through a machine that ozonated the blood and exposed it to ultraviolet light, a procedure for disinfecting the blood of viruses. In that era, this kind of practice was very new in the world of alternative medicine and didn’t hit the shores of the US until decades later.
Doktor Bauer told her that she needed to lie on a chaise lounge in the sun every day for a half an hour and walk barefoot on the grass or in the dirt at every opportunity. In those days in Switzerland, no one used pesticides on their plants or herbicides on their grass, so it was safe to walk barefoot. Ernst lent Hilda many books to read from his vast library, as he had done with me, including books about how what we eat can affect our health for better or for worse.
When Hilda first arrived, before beginning her fast, Doktor Bauer took an extensive homeopathic history and then administered a constitutional remedy to her. In Hilda’s case, the constitutional remedy was Natrum Muriaticum. Later, I read in one of Uncle Ernst’s homeopathic books in his library about the characteristics of the person it is prescribed for. “Their pathology is introversion arising out of a feeling of great vulnerability to emotional injury.”
After a couple of hours into the second interview with Hilda, I had to go back to my room and lie down. I was losing stamina each day. Hilda ended the interview by saying that she thought that Doktor Bauer had saved her life and how lucky I was to be his niece. She hoped that one day I would come back and work in the clinic with him as a fellow doctor. I smiled. The idea of becoming a doctor seemed fanciful and not in the realm of anything I was capable of doing. It would take me almost a decade to realize that medicine was my destiny.
That afternoon a middle-aged French woman came up to me as I entered the hotel and asked me if I would like to interview her. Jeanne Marie came from Paris. When she went into menopause, she started to develop arthritis. Over the next year the arthritis became severe and deforming of her joints, especially in her hands. Eventually doctors diagnosed her with rheumatoid arthritis. The drugs prescribed to treat the arthritis made her sick. The aspirin gave her an ulcer. She had heard from a friend about an eccentric doctor in Switzerland who could probably help her. She contacted the clinic and made arrangements to come for a couple of months for both treatment and as a retreat for herself.
During the initial interview, le Docteur Bauer told Jeanne Marie that either milk products or wheat had caused her arthritis. Le docteur said that many illnesses were caused by problems with certain foods that caused the body to make substances (antibodies) that attacked itself. He explained to her that the arthritis would no longer be a problem on the raw foods diet. But he wanted her to fast and do cleansing enemas to remove the residual debris from her intestines before she began the raw food diet.
Jeanne Marie said that she didn’t need to get any other special treatments from le docteur because, after she followed the raw foods diet, the pain vanished for the first time in many years. She had already completed her treatment program at the time of my interview and had decided to stay on to enjoy being near the Alps and the hot springs. The hotel manager gave her permission to stay in the hotel and eat the same raw food that she had eaten during her treatment.
The interviews continued in this fashion for the last two weeks of my time in Switzerland with Uncle Ernst. But while I fasted, the most I could handle were two interviews a day. The rest of the time I spent resting, or napping, or reading in bed. Sometimes I took a stroll along the river, walking very slowly and deliberately so as not to get lightheaded or short of breath.
Day thirteen, the penultimate day of the fast, arrived on a weekend. Uncle Ernst had invited me to spend the day with him skating on the ice in Arosa, a well-known ski resort in the Alps where he eventually moved his home and clinic to a few years after my visit.
How am I ever going to be able to ice skate? I haven’t eaten even one crumb of food for thirteen days. Geez. Who would have guessed that I could last this long without food?
Stay tuned for Part III.