Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of May 5, 2014

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Fasting and Other Will Tasks

(Deepening Our Inner Life: Part 5)

Why fast? Some people fast for health reasons. But what about fasting for spiritual reasons, fasting as a method of spiritual practice? Why is it effective? And what effects does it have? First, though, what is fasting? What counts as a fast? Here we find a wide variety which we classify into two main types; a narrowly targeted fast that involves giving up one thing, such as alcohol, for a set number of days, typically around 40, or a complete fast of not eating or drinking anything for a set number of hours, typically 24 or 36.

Either type of fast can serve to strengthen and purify our will, which is the primary spiritual benefit of fasting. We can say with truth and accuracy that more than anything else, we are our will. Our will defines us. Fasting is the work of will, by means of deciding to temporarily deny our body one of its needs or one of its pleasures. As such, fasting is a sacrifice. We give up something to serve the Sacred. Fasting serves the Sacred by strengthening and purifying our will and by directing our will acts toward the Sacred.

How should we conduct a complete fast? Its completeness makes it simple. We just give up eating or drinking anything for the allotted time. But our bodies are different and we need to adapt our inner work to our personal circumstances. For example, for me, drinking two glasses of plain water during a 36-hour fast seems to prevent inordinate stress on kidneys or other organs, while the limited amount of water does not seem to diminish the spiritual benefits of the action. By experimenting with different modes and lengths of fasting, you will soon find what works for you. Of course, if you have medical issues that could be exacerbated by fasting, consult a physician first.

For the narrow fast, we meet the question of what to target with our fast. This involves understanding ourselves well enough to choose something that is neither too easy nor too hard. If it has a practical benefit as well, thatís a bonus but not a requirement. We could give up alcohol for 40 days, or sugar, or ice cream, or chewing gum. It should be something you take in fairly regularly or the fast would be pointless. It should be something that you are able to give up for the allotted time: stopping a pack-a-day smoking habit may be beyond our current capacity.

While fasts involve giving something up, we can also take on positive will tasks that involve doing something daily for 40 days, something we might not otherwise do, something that has a practical benefit for ourselves or others. We choose carefully, choose within our capacity to carry it through, set our start and end dates, make a commitment to ourselves, and then stick with it all the way through.

In both the narrow fasting and positive will tasks taken on for 40 days, we intend to carry it out to the letter, for the full, allotted time. Each morning we remind ourselves about our 40-day decision. Each evening we review our day to ensure we carried it out. However, it can happen that we fail on one occasion. If such a lapse does occur, we immediately move forward and continue with the fast or task. But we do everything in our power to carry through on our self-commitment. We take it seriously. This is who we are. I am my will. Itís not a matter of being in control of our life or of gaining power. Itís a question of what am I willing to give to be what I could be, to become fully myself and fulfill my personal destiny? Our will matters deeply, because this is who I am. By respecting our will, we respect ourselves. By respecting ourselves, we respect the Sacred.

See Also: Fasting and The Sacred Vow


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