What’s in Fasting?

There was a potluck party recently and the food brought by friends were delicious and mouth watering. Amongst those friends were a few who were in the midst of a spiritual fasting regime – spiritual in the sense that it is not for any physical purposes; though it is part and parcel of the fast; but more than that it is for the sake for one to face what comes up in the mind experiences during the fast – at least, that is how I view fasting from my personal opinion.

In the midst of that party, I heard the many voices of desire of those who initially considered replacing that day’s fast to another day just so to exchange for the good food offered on that particular potluck party. It sounded so familiar to me as we were all there before.

And I couldn’t help but remember those days when I was in the midst of fasting and friends around me were feasting with joy. During those occasions, I was constantly checking what was in my mind and was surprised by the non interest in the food served at that moment. That had made me ponder on the purpose of fasting.

Fasting is just a form of a deeper essence which many of us may have overlooked. As in anything, the form is always taken to represent the essence, which most of the time is not entirely correct. To see a person in a robe does not mean anything in reference to what is in his mind. Similarly to see a murderer does not mean anything as to what is in his mind or our minds too. We can never know what is going on in another’s mind, not to even mention our own ignorance. What is important is the unseen intention and motivation that embark us to do each action.

Hence, when we do fasting from an ill-informed intent, instead of bringing up something deeper and spiritual within us, the opposite may occur. The mind generates according to what we put in – negativity naturally begets negativity, and vice versa. Wrong intentions may seemingly give good result in the beginning but it is a matter of time before negativity catches up. The metaphor that came to mind is of a thief waiting patiently at the door where we think we are safe; until we are required to leave that place. Similarly when we do fasting without much wisdom in it, what we think had been controlled and purified comes back to us in full vengeance. We are only suppressing what is within instead of giving it a voice, and hence awaiting its time to return at any time. And that makes a difference between practising a fast with ignorance and wisdom. With ignorance, there is backlash; whereas with wisdom we give space to what comes up in us for us to heal.

Thus for me, the best fast is when we are consistently faced with the aroma of delicious food and the desire arising from it. Instead of seemingly killing the desire by ignoring it, or to some, moving away or avoiding those food places so that they will not be enticed by their inner demon to succumb to it; I would suggest that they allow what can possibly come up in them to arise. It is only in this way can we give what is within us a voice as an opportunity to address so that what is ignored can be faced and what is faced can be healed. This is truly the way of a spiritual practise, as it is not about running away or holding on to any set of views but through observation and understanding, those views releases themselves. What we hold on is what that holds us tightly.

It is good to remind ourselves to see every experience of life as a spiritual endeavour, through the doorway of the mind.

The disciples asked him, “Do you want us to fast? How should we pray? Should we give to charity? What diet should we observe?” J said, “When you go into any region and walk in the countryside, and people take you in, eat what they serve you. After all, what goes into your mouth will not defile you; rather, it’s what comes out of your mouth that will reveal you.”

–  The Pursah’s Gospel of Thomas

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