Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Fasting

From time immemorial, serious seekers across the spectrum of religious and spiritual traditions have engaged in ascetic practices.  One of the most ancient and effective of these is fasting, still practiced in many religions and paths up to the present day. During the holy month of Ramadan, for example, Muslims take no food or drink from sunrise to sunset each day for the entire month. Similarly, on the day of Yom Kippur, Jews forgo food and drink from sunset to sunset. In fasting, we sacrifice our own personal desires for the Divine. However, the true depth of the action of that sacrifice lies beyond our consciousness.

It is, in fact, unfailingly surprising how well fasting invigorates one’s spiritual practices, such as being present. With so many aspects of life, wherein we face choices of how to live, how to act, and what to do, those choices do not always involve moral issues, e.g., how much to eat. We need a criterion, a compass to point us along our way, and that criterion can simply be our ability to be present. If certain activities and ways of living increase that, then we recognize them as appropriate for us on our path. If other activities decrease our ability to be present, we work to eliminate or diminish them.

With our ability to be present as a measure of our being, what a remarkable effect a single day’s fast can have! Not only does it serve as a personal, small scale sacrifice to our Lord, and not only does it serve to make our body feel more healthy, alert, and energetic in the days following the fast, but it clearly also provides a major boost to our ability to be present. During a fast, the energies normally used in digesting food become available to be transformed into the energies of awareness. Fasting also diverts some of the energy that typically flows into associative thinking and daydreaming, leaving our minds better able to settle into a quieter, more spacious mode. Thus, fasting brings us back to ourselves more often. When we do come back to ourselves during and after a fast, we more readily recognize the importance of presence and abide longer in presence. The sacrifice of fasting increases our commitment to the path. And almost magically, fasting brings us toward that deeper place in us, toward joy, stillness, and love, toward that place where God truly can see through our eyes.

In practice, we see different, effective forms of fasting. Here is one. Choose a period of either 24 or 36 hours for the fast. On the day prior and the day after the fast, eat slightly less than normal. During the fast eat nothing, and drink only water. Drinking water makes the fast easier on the body while not significantly diminishing the beneficial spiritual effects of the fast. Fast no more than once a week.

As with any spiritual practice, we must follow our common sense not to harm our bodies, our jobs, our relationships, or our inner life. Medical problems may prevent us from fasting. If in doubt about this, ask your doctor. For those good many of us who are identified with our body image and/or watching our weight, fasting may be a bad idea. The spiritual practice of fasting can be tainted by our personality drive to lose weight or maintain a low weight. In such cases, the spiritual benefits tend to vanish, while the fasting itself can have problematic impacts on our relationship with food. Lastly, if we allow our personality to boost our ego with pride over being able to fast, the spiritual benefits vanish in such cases as well. Better not to fast at all.

The powerful practice of fasting should be undertaken in a serious manner, not to achieve some high, but as an act of service to the spiritual reality. Consequently, during and after a fast, we make an extra effort to be present as much as possible. If prayer forms part of our path, then a fast day can also be a good day for prayer. Finally, when we fast we can empathize with the hundreds of millions of people who experience chronic undernourishment due to lack of adequate food supplies. Our compassion can grow for the suffering of those who, unlike ourselves, do not have a choice about abstaining from food.

Revised July 30, 2020


     

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