Today I fasted for the first time in years for a non-medical reason. It was a short fast, only 18 hours. In the past it wasn’t unusual for me to fast for a 24 hour period, and at one point I fasted for 5 days (I was aiming for 7, but the spirit became as unwilling as the body at the end of day 5.) I started fasting as a part of my spiritual practice, it is a long standing tradition in Christianity to forego food for spiritual reasons. My longest fast was a combination of religious and political motivation: I was participating in the fasts around the cuts to American food stamp programs and austerity aimed at the weakest in society globally. Today’s fast wasn’t a super hard fast; just a simple food fast where I allowed water, tea, coffee, and bouillon broth (but not bone broth.)
There is a growing body of research pointing to how healthy fasting is for a person; including regeneration of stem cells and immunology. To me it points to how humans are meant to go through periods of both feast and famine; that is the environment we’ve lived in for most of our time on this planet. It is only in a few select areas and times where humans are able to eat regular meals all the time with little or no concern for where the next meal comes from. Ancient Rome, a few select periods in China, and contemporary western society. This is probably the first time in the history of homo sapiens where there are fewer people going hungry every day than there are eating three square a day.
Health wasn’t the reason I fasted. I fasted today as part of my ongoing efforts to build the spiritual side of my life. It may sound odd to westerners (I know it seems odd to me) but I dreamt of fasting today last night, and I have had multiple occasions over the last few days where thoughts of fasting have crossed my mind whilst in contemplation. I have a general rule that if something pops up in my dreams and thoughts and meditations it is a good sign I should be taking it seriously as a prompting from God. So today I fasted, as I felt I was being requested to do, for spiritual reasons.
The act of forgoing food with a purposeful intent has been a tool for spiritual development for as long as humans have been developing their spiritual side. Each time my mind turned to food it was an opportunity to ponder on God, my soul, and creation. Eating is a deeply spiritual act when you think about it; we take the life of something else, be it plant or animal, and incorporate it into our own. We weave the spirit of that life into the spirit of ours; just as the spirit of God weaves into our lives. Fasting helps me contemplate that in a very visceral way.
Interesting things happen when you don’t eat, even for a little while. I always notice how food focused we are as a culture; if you doubt that watch an episode of Gilmore Girls and count the times they eat. For me it really drives home that we are living in a time of exceptional luxury, over 3 billion of us have access to three meals a day while under a billion of us are chronically hungry. That’s pretty amazing given the fragility of life, agriculture, and society. Every time I fast I am reminded that I should have gratitude for the food abundance we have access too. The fact that I can willingly choose to forego food on my schedule is, in itself, a luxury. An amazing luxury.
Exercising restraint is at the heart of fasting. You begin to see with more clarity how much of thought and action is dictated not by the intellect, but by the brute biology of the body. The tummy grumbles, out of habit more than need really, and you put something in it. Your mood elevates or drops in relation to how long it’s been since the last nibble of cheese. Every time you think of food or your body asks for it during a fast is a time to remind yourself of these things; and exercise restraint. We live in a world of very quick or instant gratification, one where we rarely take time to think before we act. Holding off on eating, that purposeful act of restraint with something so fundamental to life, in my mind, is of great value.
I am doing most of the cooking right now as Sarah is still recovering from her surgery, and it was an almost enjoyable challenge to prep food for others while not partaking. Getting supper ready tonight I really noticed how often I taste, nibble, and sample the food I put together as I cook.
At the end breaking a fast is always amazing. Hunger truly is the best seasoning; the simplest food takes on new meaning and flavour after you’ve not eaten for a day. More so after a few days. A slice of bread with butter becomes a sumptuous feast; a bowl of soup becomes the richest broth and flavour melange you’ve ever had; a bit of cheese tastes like heaven. Gratitude for every bite.