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.