Fasting is the ancient spiritual tradition of refraining from normal food intake, creating a state of emptiness. In fasting, our bodies and minds settle, clear and reach higher states. We perceive space itself, beyond and within. I have found various forms of this practice to be the antidote to many imbalances of modern living.
My first fast was when I was in college, where I couldn’t resist the myriad opportunities to indulge in the countless desserts New York City had to offer around the clock. From peanut butter frozen yogurt to cranberry scones, I found myself in an endless cycle, fluctuating between sugar high and sugar low. I became more fixed on obtaining my next indulgence than engaging with people and schoolwork. Realizing I was addicted, I decided to fast from all types of sugar. I did so for two years, foregoing every type of sweet from Thanksgiving dessert to simple fruits and juices. Afterwards, my body no longer had a taste for sugary foods. I could take them or leave them – a reality that was unfathomable before.
Years later, I fasted from commercial television and radio. I felt their manufactured images and terse sound bites did not serve my well-being. The people on screen didn’t look like anyone I knew. The words and sounds I heard were too quick to process and too empty to swallow. They overloaded my system, like red dye number 2 and high fructose corn syrup. I decided to do without. Instead, I stayed connected to my surrounding world and more thoughtful and thorough media, keeping me attuned to slow-moving currents and deep-lasting truths. Ten years later, when I again viewed a commercial television broadcast, I was astonished at how reporters had become less thoughtful and characters more rude, actions more violent and clothing less modest. This trend was one I had not participated in day-to-day. Had my perception been tempered by such subtle changes, I might have become oblivious to them. Instead, I was now a true observer.
Fasting takes many forms and serves various purposes for me. Scheduling free time daily helps me to stop doing the lists of things I think I need doing and settle my mind and spirit. Refraining from work once a week, creates a Sabbath, enabling me to simplify my workload and gain balance between activity and rest. Abstaining from solid food once a month, helps me gain a higher state of consciousness, allowing me to see the bigger picture, easily lost in the day to day, and organize the smaller parts. It also cleanses my body.
I believe that participating and fasting are as natural and necessary to life as are the in and out of breathing and awakening and sleep. Each plays its part; together they create balance.
It seems that we are eager to indulge, but slow to fast. However, like clearing a calculator before performing our next calculation, we need to become empty, before we can truly begin again.
So much can be set right by simply doing nothing. Filling up space is not the only way to use our time.