I’ve been fasting for 19 days per year towards the end of winter every year for over 10 years. As long as the sun is up, I don’t eat or drink anything. This practice is surprising to most of the people I meet in Minnesota, but I have been doing it for so long that I can no longer relate to the foreignness that they see in it.
“What? For 19 days? Really?… You can drink water, though, right? No? Oh my gosh, for 19 how long? …” And so it goes when people offer me coffee or lunch in early March. And soon after that, the conversation shifts or someone has to go on with their day. We almost never get a chance to talk about the good part.
During my early years participating in the fast, I was similarly preoccupied with survival. Will I get sick? What if I start coughing? What should I eat in the morning to stave off hunger all day? How many cups of water can I drink before the sun rises above the horizon? Now that I have done this for so many years, I have lost interest in those questions. There are some important physical changes in how I manage and use my energy level during the fast, and I take care to cover the basic food groups in each meal. But, I feel like food is not the point. Eating with intention can be delicious, exciting, and eye-opening. Intentionally not eating is just a means to an end, a mechanism. For me, one of the interesting goals is detachment.
Hunger is so elemental. What we do with food can be habitual and instinctive. Most of the practice of eating is subconscious. How many times have you found yourself standing in front of an open fridge, sitting in front of an empty plate or holding an empty bag of chips? How many of those steps, those bites, those chews and swallows, were a decision that you made? Could you have waited a bit? Sometimes, if you’d slow down enough, you’ll realize you actually aren’t that hungry. You are actually bored, or distracted, or rushing, or addicted. If you break that instinct down, you may find a better experience on the other end. Or, if you find that you really are hungry, than take another bite! It’ll taste even better!
I think this principle of detachment is so beneficial and universal that you should join – even just for a day. If abstaining from food and drink isn’t right for you, reflect on what else you might want to create a little distance from. Take a break from sugar or watching TV or alcohol or driving when you could bike or whatever it is you think you “need.” Test that assumption for a day or a month or however long it takes to feel difficult.
And, most importantly, don’t just think about the physical changes. As I said before, thinking of fasting as a physical challenge can put limits on how well we understand it. It can open your eyes to how principles like restraint, detachment, patience, and discipline can better your life. After you’ve surpassed the difficult part, tell me how it went (firstname.lastname@example.org). Or, if you’d prefer, don’t tell me. Maybe don’t tell anybody. Detach yourself from something to prove to you that you can.
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