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Slowed by Fasting

For a while there, I just gave up on eating and drinking. I’m telling you, I was done with it.

Fasting.

What a weird and counter-cultural thing to do in a world of Whoppers and I’m Lovin’ It and Have it Your Way, to say nothing of obesity epidemics and 140-character limits on attention. (Yeah, I guess I might as well say it. Harrumph.)

Fasting. Muslims do it. Christians used to, though even by my faithful mother’s heyday, she would merely give up one of her oral pleasures – usually chocolate, never cigarettes – for the Lenten leadup to Easter. (Jesus fasted and prayed for 40 famous days in the

Not the view from downtown Dalian, but sunrise is lovely anywhere.

wilderness, getting ready to bear a mighty Ministry; however, this exemplary practice seems to have been largely abandoned  by followers of the Son.) Baha’u’llah also prescribed it for a 19-day period leading up to the first day of spring (the Baha’i new year), from sunup to sundown.
My bride tires of hearing this, but I do look forward to March – not only for the basketball “madness” in North America, but also for the chance to learn a bit more about restraining and retraining my impulses. “Be content with little food, but take much from the heavenly table” is advice to the faithful, but it also is the simplest and best dieting counsel I know. Feed the mind. Nourish the heart. Don’t follow the media-led masses by insistently stoking our own dissatisfaction. Heaven knows I have enough of that, but advertisers (“Snickers really satisfies!”) want me to know that I have a world of munching to do. (I suppose they are just doing their job. And what a job they do!) It always ends too soon for me, but my dear one was singing and dancing as March 20 drew nigh. The not-eating part of the Fast, surely the least important aspect, is physically more difficult for her than for me. I get a little peckish, sure, in the early afternoon, and sometimes I’m dozier than usual, but usually that’s because I don’t get myself to bed early enough to prepare for a pre-dawn breakfast. As the nineteen days ended, I had my familiar pangs of regret: insufficient or distracted prayer time, a shortage of deep year-end reflection and resolve, and the slippery tendency to use some of my non-consuming hours to chew on bubble-gum news and other Internet candy. There’s that.

My gains this year were in doing a more mindful job in the evening. It wasn’t so much that my study or meditation habits were ramped up – they weren’t – but I was better, once the sun went down, at not turning the day’s fast inside-out. More than I have in the past, I ate my evening meal and then stopped. (Mostly.) Too often, in the past, I’ve found myself eating non-stop in the darkness just as I had abstained from it all day, which surely defeats the purpose somewhat. Not incidentally, for one of the few times in my many years of learning to fast, I actually lost weight during this period. (There is still lots of room for waistline decline.) Partly, this came from a more balanced attitude to stopping eating once sunset opened the gates of permission, but also I used this period to reinforce my renewed quest to avoid of sugar and a few other Usual Abusables.

I did finish the first section of a small project, selecting passages from a lengthy study of the Baha’i writings that might be useful for our Dalian friends to read in translation. (A diatribe for another day: how the Chinese education system beats the love of reading out of all but a few oddballs.) I read Asking Questions: A Challenge to Fundamentalism, a series of connected essays on self-interrogation as a means to search for truth and avoid dogma. It was good food for thinking, and a pleasure to read weighty non-fiction whose writer can really turn a phrase; Ms. Nakhjavani is also a novelist.

But mostly, this “lover of worldly desire” used the Fast to obsess, usefully, about eating. I’m learning still, one day at a time in my middle age, how to eat, and it can’t be coincidental that my best educator is an ancient practice that helps to distinguish need from lusty want. And who doesn’t need that?    

Also not Dalian, but a vacationing blogger bidding farewell to a Thai sun, 2012.

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