I have been thinking about doing a full-blown fast for a few months now - one that lasts 3-5 days. One of my dear meditation friends and I have kicked around the idea of doing one together. It seems like it would be really nice to have someone going through it at the same time for moral support and a sense of camaraderie. The last few months of course have not been a good time for trying a fast for the first time, considering my international move. I have spent the last few months in near-constant movement (when not meditating or sleeping!) trying to get things organized, putting furniture together, driving the kids to various day camps and appointments, etc. I'm currently relying more on my energy from food than normal to give me the extra energy in this time of transition. However, once the kids have started school again and the house (life!) is in a steadier state, I (a bit nervously) look forward to giving it a try.
While I haven't done an all-out fast, I have been doing some intermittent fasting, intentionally skipping breakfast some mornings. I've heard on several podcasts (for instance, various interviews from Rich Roll and Jonathan Fields) that intermittent fasting is good for the body because it gives the digestive system time to rest. This is more inline with how the human body has operated until relatively modern times. Food being so readily available at any time all year long is a pretty new concept from a human history standpoint. Our bodies are designed to endure periods of scarcity, and letting our digestive system rest allows it the chance to clean out and get rid of toxins and build up. Even by just having an early-ish dinner and then skipping breakfast (or delaying it as long as you can), you give your body a longer time to get the food worked completely through the system and allow yourself at least a short time of digestive rest.
A particularly good interviewee I have listened to on this topic was Dr. Frank Lipman (both on Rich Roll's and Jonathan Field's podcasts). He has a lot of good information about holistic health in general. He's the author of several books and sells holistic products, so he's easy to find for more info.
What if you are not in a position to skip a meal, due to a particular health issue? I have another meditation friend who would not be able to join a fast because she is pregnant. There are, of course, various versions of "fasting" which can be done for the betterment of your health and/or as a symbol of your devotion. Cutting out something you really enjoy from your diet but is doing you a disservice is one way. It could be alcohol, soft drinks (Coke is my weakness! I try to keep it to one a week), all sugar, only dessert. This is the same concept some people take with observing Lent.
You could also have a fast from things completely unrelated from food which are not serving you. I took a Facebook fast many months ago. Like many, I realized I was wasting so much time trying to stay caught up with what was going on in this imaginary parallel world called Facebook that I was sacrificing life that was right in front of me. I would sometimes be with my kids, filling the downtime with Facebook, and missing some chances to truly be present with them. Even when just watching TV with my husband at night - we would pause what we were watching so he could get a snack and I would immediately go on my phone to see what was happening on Facebook. I couldn't just sit there and be present without "doing" something (somehow it felt productive, staying caught up on the latest posts). As I have gotten deeper in my yogic studies, I have learned that bringing that stillness of mind into our lives outside of meditation has positive effects on our ability to still our mind during meditation. While waiting for our partner to return from a snack break while the TV is paused, or while waiting in line, pumping gas, or walking down the street, instead of reaching for our phones to check Facebook we can go inward and quietly, consciously, and inconspicuously turn our attention to our breath. We can do a few easy, calming breathing exercises where we gently control the breath, or we can simply turn all of our attention to the breath as a centering activity as we do in meditation.
Of course, the intention of a fast is that it is a break. Ultimately, we must return to eating for the sake of keeping our bodies going. However, the other types of fasts which involve cutting out something which is not serving you anyway could be the first step in ridding yourself of a bad habit. You may find that by cutting out sugar for a limited time ultimately leads to great side effects like better digestion, your clothes feeling more comfortable, fewer headaches, etc, which gives you the push to create the new healthy behavior of avoiding sugar long term. After resisting Facebook for a limited time, I am almost positive you will find yourself more aware of the world in front of you, more connected in deeper ways with your surroundings and the people in your physical space, and a feeling as though you have just gained buckets of time back from your day.
I never truly came back from my Facebook fast. I guess I didn't really initially approach it as a "fast," but rather wanted to focus on keeping my energy and attention inward as much as I could outside of meditation, and I realized Facebook had a big outward pull on my energy. It took time to rewire my habits from filling so many of my moments checking for updates, but I really feel that I am much better for that change of behavior. And, knowing that I had the willpower to resist when I was in the thick of that rewiring gives me hope that I can overcome the challenges that await me in a future fast!
I love Franciscan friar Richard Rohr. He said in an interview with Krista Tippett, “Some people grow older and wiser, and some people just grow older.”
Contemplate if you are using the gift of advancing from age to age for your growth and development. Are you taking advantage of your time in life to learn something new, challenge stale ways of thinking, strive to better yourself to the higher ideals of humanity by way of compassion, empathy, and humility? The time for pause and reflection is now. It won’t help to get to the end of life and then take stock of how you are living up to your highest ideals; obviously by then your chances for growth and change will have severe time constraints.
This contemplation of life progress is particularly relevant for me right now, as I recently hit the 40-year milestone. Looking back 10 years, I can appreciate who I was at 30. I was holding my own with a growing family (just one child by that time), a career, and of course all the regular householder duties. But in these last 10 years I have grown and changed a lot. I added another child into the mix, took up running, lived in Italy for 4 years, subsequently learned a new language, deepened my spiritual knowledge, switched careers, dealt with loses and near-misses of loved ones, and so many other things that have been causes of great shifts within me. I expect that in 10 more years I will look back at this time and feel some wistful innocence for where I am now versus all that is to come before I reach the next decade.
It’s really important that we open ourselves up to change. Wise is the one who accepts that the only constant in life is change. Without change, we can’t grow, and that is what we are here to do! Allow yourself to consider new ideas or teachings. Don’t get stuck in your paradigms; if your current way of thinking is bulletproof, then wading into unfamiliar territory can only reaffirm what you already know. However, it is more likely you will learn something new which will add clarity and depth to your knowledge, beliefs, and/or habits.
Meditation is an invaluable tool to shepherd yourself into these spaces of development. Meditation gives you the room within for introspection, which can you lead to contemplation and expansion to your greatest possibilities.
What can you do outside of meditation to facilitate your growth? It can be as easy as bringing in new ideas through books, podcasts, documentaries, to taking a class which gets you using a new part of your brain or a new expression of your creativity, to learning a new language, to traveling to a place that goes beyond your comfort zone, to using your time in more productive ways (i.e. consciously cut down on the number of times you reach for your phone to fill your bursts of downtime), and myriad of other options that get you out of your habitual patterns and into growth territory. In future blogs I will go into each of these example ideas in a bit more depth, but for now start looking within yourself to see what you can do to till your soil within, churn it up, loosen it, and get it ready for planting new ideas to work towards the growth of you in body, mind, and spirit.
It’s always intriguing to see karmic laws in action. It can feel like a little nudge from the universe to remember there is something grander always working beyond what we can consciously control.
You might be aware already of the law of karma: simply put, what goes around comes around. What we put out into the universe must come back to us. Sometimes these theories take lifetimes to play out. We may bring ourselves to great financial fortune by taking from someone and in a future life be born into destitution. Conversely, we may sacrifice ourselves in some way for the betterment of another and find great rewards in a future life. When our energy swings the karmic pendulum a certain way out, karmic law dictates that it must swing equally back toward us the other way to balance it out.
It doesn’t always take lifetimes for karma to play out. I experienced this myself this week, in fact. Before I left Bologna three weeks ago, two people asked me to write them a referral letter when things slowed down enough that I would have time. That in and of itself was funny, because the requestors don’t know each other but the requests came within about 12 hours of each other. They each made it clear there was not a big rush because they wouldn’t need them immediately, and that was lucky because there have not been many (any?) moments of downtime in the last month to focus on anything but moving and the thousands of tasks that come with that. Oh yes, I also fractured my ankle 4 days before our trip from Italy to America and ended up in the emergency room on my birthday. And, did I mention we realized the day before our scheduled flight that the kids’ passports had been swept up in our air shipment, so we had to shift all our plans (flights, hotels, sea container delivery, rental car, etc) out one day so we could go to Florence and get temporary passports for them? Thank you, meditation, for giving me a solid center from which to approach these unexpected complications to an international move, which is complicated by its very nature!
Anyway, in the last few days I have really been feeling the desire to sit down and write these referrals for these women who I was really happy to help. It kept floating up into my mind that I needed to work on them, but again there is always something to do to try to get the house sorted out and feeling more like home, plus the kids have had various camps and lessons so there has been a lot of taxiing them around, and plus when they are home it is hard to get a few minutes uninterrupted at a time to focus on something like that. But, Monday night I was absolutely determined to get them sent out. We were heading on vacation Tuesday morning, and it felt right to have them completed before we left. So, after the kids went to bed I began working on them and didn’t stop until they were both completed.
The very next morning when I checked my email, I received an email from a client whom I had worked with in Italy who provided a reference for me! I have to admit the timing seemed humorously overt from a karmic perspective, but I really believe that because I consciously created the references with a spirit of service to these women, I was repaid in kind. I believe that if I had, however, consciously written the letters with the intent of receiving something from the universe for my effort that I would not have been repaid, or perhaps not as quickly or as evenly (i.e. “repaid” perhaps but with something I did not value as much as the email I received). Remember that the spirit with which we direct our energy in service is at least as important as the service itself. Additionally, practically we reap more benefit psychologically when we energetically and positively engage in service than when we view it as another thing to be done or something we HAVE to do.
I am an Ananda® certified meditation teacher. I am passionate about meditation and embrace a yogic lifestyle for greater wellness physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
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