Today is Monday and on Mondays, I fast. Fasting is widely recommended by various religions as a way of developing one’s relationship with the Divine and I have certainly found it to be a beneficial practice. I used to fast randomly, spontaneously deciding to not eat for a day when it occurred to me to so do. I didn’t do it very often. A month or so ago, I decided to be more regular and deliberate about it and Monday was the obvious day to establish as my fast day. The restaurant where I work is closed on Mondays so I don’t have to work with food, which would create temptation and make work difficult because cooks do have to taste their work occasionally. Also, I don’t have my daughter on Mondays. The wee grrrl is nearly six. She needs plenty of fuel for growing and playing, but is a picky eater. I regularly have to employ strong-arm tactics to get her to eat enough food to sustain life and that would be all the harder if I wasn’t eating. She would notice immediately, demand an explanation and insist on joining me in fasting, except she would decide that applesauce didn’t count as food so she could eat an entire jar. And chocolate. I’m not going to get into that conundrum.
For me, when I fast, I do not eat from midnight to midnight. I do drink – water, coffee, tea with honey. One day is not a long fast. When I was drinking and drugging, I would go three or four days without eating and not even notice. Since I got clean and sober, I have experienced periods of poverty when I was unable to get food. I’m accustomed to hunger. It doesn’t negatively affect me. I am aware of the sensation of hunger, the message that my body sends to my brain, but I am able to experience it without judging it. If I fasted for a longer period – three days, for example – I would have physical and mental affects. I don’t do that often because it would interfere with my ability to work and/or take care of my rotten kid. Right now, it’s colder than Hell, here in the valley of the Shenandoah and not much warmer inside the Hollar House, so I’m using energy to keep my blood warm and fight off the various viruses and bugs the people around me are sneezing into the air. When it gets warmer, I’ll undertake some two-day fasts.
Fasting for short periods helps a person develop self-discipline. It also reinforces the idea that the body is not the Self. I am not this animated collection of meat, bone and muscle. I am something other than my body, which will age and lose power, eventually ceasing to live. Already, at forty-five, I have begun to experience my body’s limitations. I don’t need glasses to read – my arms are long enough – but I do need them to thread a sewing needle. There’s something wrong with the middle finger on my left hand – the end joint doesn’t respond right. I can bend it down, but can’t straighten it. This is fine for guitar playing, but not the way that finger is supposed to function. As I age, my vision will get worse, my hands will become weaker and less dexterous and my knees will go. I will have some hearing loss. I will be inconvenienced by these things, but not distressed because I expect them to happen and because I know that my body is not me. I try to take care of it, but I am not its servant.
Long fasts induce altered states. This is well documented. Short fasts do not cause major shifts in one’s perceptions, but they do reveal ideas and awarenesses that were just below the surface. As I write, I am listening to a seventy-seven minute sound piece that I’ve been working on for a month or so and hearing it differently than I would if I had a bellyful of beans’n’rice. The sounds are a bit sharper, the mix more distinct. I’m fairly informal about short pieces, but a thing of this length and complexity warrants greater attention. I wouldn’t consider releasing something like this to the world until I had listened to in the context of a fast. (It’s done, by the way. The mix is right. I’ll convert it to wav and start shopping it around in the next few days.)
Fasting also raises my awareness of how truly fucking blessed I am. A friend of mine recently said “If you were born in the United States, you’ve already won the lottery.” This is as true as it can be. I have another friend who was born in Germany in 1936. When she was two, her father was drafted. He didn’t come back for ten years – the war years plus three years in a Russian prison camp. She grew up with constant food shortage and occasional aerial attacks by American planes. When she was my daughter’s age, she knew to flatten herself against the walls of buildings to avoid strafing machinegun fire. Bombs killed sixteen of her classmates in one day. I have never had those experiences, nor am I likely to. It is extremely unlikely that I will ever have to endure life in a war zone, famine or drought. Even if the direst predictions about global warming do occur, I will be protected from the worst because of where I live. The southwest states will be parched and Indonesia will be under water, but the mountains of Virginia will be fine for my lifetime. I have the privilege of choosing not to eat for a day. At one minute after midnight, when I break my fast, I will appreciate the food I eat more than usual.
I’ll also appreciate it when this fucking cold spell is over. I am truly looking forward to going out to the George Washington National Forest, climbing a mountain and sitting naked on a rock with no food and only one bottle of water for twenty-four hours, crying for a vision and feeling the sunshine on my body. Hell, I might be so happy that it isn’t cold that I’ll pierce my flesh and hang weights from the hooks to show my gratitude.
Fasting is not for everyone. Some people have physical conditions that would be exacerbated by fasting and those folks shouldn’t do it. For those who are able and so inclined, fasting can have many benefits. I recommend looking into it, experimenting with it. The least that can happen is you reduce your carbon footprint which would help to make the direst global warming predictions slightly less likely to occur. The Indonesians would appreciate that.
First weekend of February, I took a look at the pile of envelopes on the hall table – the ones with little windows – and came to the conclusion that I was in dire straits as regards my personal finances. Rent had taken the lion’s share of my paycheck, which was smaller than usual, leaving fuck all for food, gas and sundry tobacco products. And there were bills yet due.
On Monday, I got an advance on my next check, which allowed me to get the little red truck inspected* and pay the most immediate bills. That was really just kicking the can two weeks out, since I was borrowing from myself. With no other recourse, I prayed about it.
I pray twice daily, morning and night. Sometimes, I throw in an extra if there’s reason. It’s a habit I deliberately developed and now seems natural and necessary. Not praying before leaving the house in the morning would be weirder than going out with no pants.
My prayer regarding my financial situation was a general expression of concern – I have no money and I need some – and a request – Please, help me see a way to get the money I need. I didn’t specifically state that I was looking for a legal way to get the money because I figured that was implied. I finished in the usual manner – Thy will be done – and went to sleep. And I mean I went to sleep. I did not toss and turn all night fretting uselessly about how broke I was or scheming illegal ways to get money. I let the whole thing go and slept like a baby.
Tuesday presented no immediate windfall, so I repeated the prayer and again, slept peacefully, without worry. This continued all week. There was one day in there – I went in to work and somebody told me that a key had broken off in one of the locks. We have freezers outside which we secure with padlocks. The bread freezer was inaccessible and bread was wonted. I got the angle grinder and cut the lock off. As I was cutting, I thought “Wow, breaking and entering would be easy with this tool”, but felt no need to pursue that line of thought. So the week went. Each day, I went to work, kept my eyes open and turned the whole issue over to my Divinity of choice at the end of the day.
I was happy, but not surprised, when I got a call from my father on Friday about work. He had been waiting for a call and that call came and another besides. We have a couple weeks worth of work, which is exactly the money I was needing. And the weather changed, making outside work really fucking nice. I do so enjoy working outside when the weather is warm and sunny, but not hellishly hot, even if it does mean listening to the wackjob conservative talk radio bullshit my dad listens to.
So, the financial situation is all but resolved. And this little tale is a fine example of the usefulness and value of prayer. I am not claiming that my Higher Power sent a band of angels to appear in dreams to homeowners and tell them to get their houses painted, to hire my dad to do the job, and then tweaked the global weather patterns so we’d have a few really nice days to scrape and paint gutters, though I do believe the Author of Creation is capable of doing those things. I am stating, with all sincerity, conviction and full awareness of how uncool it is, that my prayers allowed me to enjoy peace of mind during the days when I was waiting for some solution to my problem, a solution I knew would come in its own time. I live in accord with dharma/tao/God’s will to the best of my ability. I am certain that when one lives in such a manner, when one aligns oneself with the Cosmic Flow, one gains access to courses of development outside of oneself that guarantee the basic needs and the resources to carry on with the works of the Divine, and one is able to rest in the assurance that everything is going to be fine. This is a very different attitude than what I had before I undertook my spiritual path. Back then, I was a fucked up atheist, strung out, insane, depressed, stressed and generally not right. I struggled from one crisis to the next, mentally disturbed and incapable of doing fuck all to improve my situation. I did not transform instantly into the mostly serene and confident person I now am the instant that I first uttered a prayer. It took years of practice and right living. But the change did take place.
Skeptics will say that the work would’ve come whether I prayed or not and that is certainly true. I’m not saying my prayers changed reality. I’m saying my prayers changed my own experience of reality. And I’m saying it because The Big Drum In The Sky Religion is evangelical. I am proclaiming the good news that prayer works, that the disturbed mind can be comforted , that the mentally and/or spiritually afflicted can be healed. (Medication certainly helps in some cases.) The possibility that the result I achieved was a product of self-induced mental conditioning, requiring no action on the part of any Celestial Entity is one that I am cognizant of and has no relevance whatsoever. The act of continued, repeated prayer yielded a result. Belief in a Deity is not required.
So, prayer works.
*Virginia requires all vehicles to be inspected annually. You get a sticker on your windshield that says “1/15”, for example, which means your inspection is good and you don’t have to think about it until the first month of ’15, at which point you’re supposed to get your vehicle inspected again. I always take my vehicle in for inspection on the first day of the next month, so this year I waited until 1 February, which means my inspection sticker says “2/16”. Next year, I’ll go on 1 March. Doing it this way means that I get thirteen months for the price of twelve.
I share that information so that others who live in states that require annual inspection can game the system the same way and to show that a spiritual life need not mean a life of squeaky clean adherence to every single rule. Some mild chicanery is allowed and some major acts of property destruction may be required when and if they serve the purpose of one’s Higher Power. I’m thinking of certain direct actions taken by the ELF, ALF and other radical organizations that work to undo the destruction caused by capitalism, actions which are right and good and which I have no specific knowledge of, nor do I participate in them. Do not contact me about any direct actions you are planning. I want no part in it. I do, however, pray for your success.
Brown Hat the Espresso Shaman
The pun is always intended.