Yesterday, May 28, Memorial Day and a Full Moon I completed my first willing fast. I say willing because there were times in the past that I was too sick to eat. It was only a 24 hour fast as opposed to the 36 hour fast that I had originally planned, but I think it was a sufficient start. I did this for several reasons. First, everyone is talking about intermittent fasting and I was curious whether this was a legitimate thing or if it was instead a polite way of saying anorexia. Second, Matthew 6:16 contains a verse in translation that begins “When you fast, do no look somber as the hypocrites do….” In Greek it is transliterated as “H’otan de nesteuete…” that and I suppose you must take my word for it means the same as the NIV translation I cited above. This is of course the famous “Amen I say unto you passage” that the priests recite on Lent as they yell at you for not coming to Mass all year and then using Lent as your pre-bikini-weather diet. All this aside, many have pointed out that the passage is not a conditional. Meaning not “if you fast” but “when you fast” as though it is something that Jesus assumed we would all do.
So, with these two things in mind, I embarked on my first fast. I learned several things that surprised me a little that I consider worth investigating further in the future. First, I was not hungry as I thought I would be hungry. My stomach did not hurt and I did not think of food as I normally think of food as I wait for breakfast or lunch. That is, I am usually impatient and think that I may die if the waiter or the toaster oven takes a moment longer. No, in fact, after about 3 P.M. the idea of hunger did not even occur to me. Second, what I did feel by 3 P.M. until I ate at 6 P.M. was uncomfortable. I was aware of an unsatisfied desire within my body and it made me very anxious. The best analogy I can make is if you have ever tried to quit some habit. For me, drinking is the perfect analogy. The desire I felt at not eating is like the desire I would feel at a certain moment of the day after I quit drinking that would tell me that I want to drink. Cigarettes are another good analogy if you have ever been a smoker and then quit – that desire for a cigarette at a certain time (e.g. after a cup of coffee, after a glass of wine, etc.). You cannot isolate the desire to your stomach or your mouth because the desire is wholly physical – that is, your whole body wants it. And for anyone who has battled with a desire, it is rather agonizing and a bit like a war within.
Third, food is not a need, it is a desire. This is likely to be a controversial statement because someone will say that without food you will die but without alcohol you will live longer. That is, one is essential to life but the other is not. I disagree. One is essential to prolonging life but with our without it one’s body ends up in the same place eventually – dead. So, why do we eat? Because it feels good.
Fourth, I note the desire is still there. Still lurking within my body. All our little desires are really parts of what is perhaps our greatest desire – this life. They prop up our reality – call it Mara, call it the Matrix, it doesn’t matter because at the end of the day our physical reality is nothing more than the movement of electrons. It seems to me without that desire for food or something else the illusion of life will fade and once the desires fade and all the accompanying evils associated with a loss of desire – fear, pain, etc. one will be left in a special place where all the rules around us that are limited by physics and the consequences of inhabiting a physical space – our bodies – will be taken away. Or maybe I’m just tired from my fast.