Friday, October 06, 2006

Fasting.

Sri Gurubhyo namaha.
I am back in circulation - after sort of a 'retreat' over the Navaratri period. Its five days now since I completed the vrata and I am pretty much back to my usual habits of Cafe latte and an herb called tobacco for breakfast. It never ceases to amaze me how fast I let something become a habit, be they good or bad. I can as easily wallow in the morphic patterns of my more baser self as I can in the unbroken bliss of meditation. After a due course of introspection during the nine nights of the vrata, I can see that the root of all this lies in my complacency. It must be my very nature or it must be the effect of years of herbs, but I find it very difficult to not be appreciative of anything. Everything, well almost everything, appears to me to be meaningful and necessary, and it all feels 'right' for its own reason. You might not think that its anything to worry about, but let me tell you, it is very difficult to cultivate 'good' habits and do 'good' things when it is impossible to discriminate between things.
I have never observed a Navaratri fast before, not in the way that I did this year at least. I quite like fasting, ya, really. I like it for many reasons. Firstly, I like the way the day becomes longer when you do not eat during the day. A few hours into the fast and it becomes clear how much time we spend each day thinking about or in the preparation of food. Breakfast sort of blends into lunch with a coffee (or a couple) in between, and before you know it, its time for dinner and then the usual cups of tea before its bed time. The average day is punctuated by the many meal times and snack times and you end up with many spare hours when you don't have to think about eating. Next I love the ecological sense in fasting - I mean, really we don't need that much food to survive. Quite a lot of the time we overeat. It must be an instinct left over from the days our great ancestors were the hunter gatherers, the fear of what if the next time there was nothing to eat? And as a result we over do food when we have it. And at the end of the day when the world is seen in terms of available resources and those that are there to make use of those resources, it becomes clear that we need individual effort to make life on earth sustainable. I think it is more responsible of me to let go of a meal every so often so that the same resource is available to someone else, elsewhere on this earth. I understand that perhaps it is a very romantic way of thinking about it and I also understand that the couple of handfuls of food I give up is not going to do much for the starving millions in Africa (or India). But over the last six years I have fasted for something like 216 days! I normally fast 3 days each month ( not including the special fasts on occasions like Sivaratri or Navaratri) and that makes 36 days in the year. Try and do the arithmetic and it becomes clear that over 6 years I would have fasted for 216 days atleast. If you calculate three meals per day that will give us 648 individual meals! Imagine the amount of food that would spare for someone else (considering that all resources are limited). I feel that in the olden days when man was much more in tune with the universal rhythm, he understood the necessity of pacing oneself. As a method for sensible use of resources among other things (like yoga, movement of prana, etc) he evolved the system of fasts and other voluntarily imposed restrictions on oneself. These methods were intended not only for his own benefit and evolution but for the bigger universe and all things connected with it. Fasting I suppose is a good alternative to intensive farming using unnatural methods (GM) to deliver an unrealistic yield. Not only does that attitude wreck the earth and destroy the power of food, it also does nothing to encourage the individual to live a life of moderation. On the contrary, it strengthens the innate greed and want in the individual, making him (and thus society) develop an insatiable appetite. It alienates us from the natural rhythm and the seasonal cycles to such an extent that all that matters is the self and its needs - no big picture.
Another aspect of fasting that I enjoy tremendously is in the mental realm. Over the years, it has become clear to me that our connection to food is very complex and has lots to do with the mind than to the physical aspect of hunger and survival. I find that the hunger pangs and the rumbling stomach is very easy to rise above and ignore, but the same cannot be said for the mental impressions of food. Like cravings for example. During the initial stages of my fasting, it was the craving for a particular taste like salty, sour etc and the craving for certain foody aromas that needed effort to overcome. It wasn't hunger or physical fatigue because of not eating etc that troubled me. The very thought of salt or salty things would cause the immediate release of saliva in my mouth and it was this 'mental' connection to food I wanted to understand. And believe me, fasting is a great way to try and understand and isolate what is mental and what is physical when it comes to food. I like the mental preparation that automatically happens on each and every fasting day. It is like going away from your beloved or your family for a while. Like you say your goodbyes until you meet again, like you want to go to that one favourite bench in the park or go for a walk in the woods all the while knowing that it might be sometime before you are able to experience it all again. I like to say my mental goodbyes to food, tastes, smells, snacks, coffee and everything else for the duration of the fast and then I love the way everything feels new and fresh when the fast is finished. A new attitude of appreciation and gratitude is born (however temporary) and I feel like thanking the Lord and the earth and everything else for what I have. The lowly upmaa, or the dry idli and the humble curd rice, all become for a while as divine as the best nectar. Thanks and praises.
When we look to the yoga sutras it becomes clear that yoga is not accomplished by those who either indulge their bodies or by those who torment their bodies. That is to say, moderation is the key. Not great fasting and other practices by which the body is tortured and not the attitude of indulgence without any restrictions. Moderation is the key, the middle path, the path of yoga. But being Libran and burdened as I am with an 'addictive' personality,I am a complete stranger to moderation. Its all or nothing with me I am afraid and no in betweens. But Iam trying! Now you might say, why then do we need to fast or show any restraint in anything? I imagine that it is because only restraint (voluntary and not obligatory) can truly make us understand what moderation is. Everything in the way we live these days is geared towards excess. Success in life seems to be measured in terms of 'how much' of anything is there rather than in terms of 'what' is there. The quantity is stressed more than the quality. Lots of money, lots of food, lots of sex, lots of everything, the more the better. So, we have to cut down and show restraint only to come to 'moderation', and there we can stabilize ourselves for the next while. From there we can begin seeing things for what they are. The middle way.
During the nine days and nights of this Navaratri, I lived on two or three pieces of fruit every day. My body felt good, my mind felt better. The fast included not only restrictions on food consumed, but also in other areas of life. There was no sleeping on beds and mattresses, just on the floor, I tried to restrain my speech, thoughts, even actions. The fast was accompanied by regular extended prayers and meditation in the mornings and evenings and throughout the day. The Sahasranamam of devi Lalitha was my steady companion, the object of my meditations, the destination for all my prayers. Ganesha, as always gave me the strength to persevere and continue the fast till the end without any hurdles and I enjoyed every minute of it. The continuous attitude of introspection was refreshing for a change. Finally, having successfully observed the fast shows me the same thing that I mentioned at the very start of this post - I am as happy in the crystal clear waters of the Ganges as I am in the mucky waters of everyday.
Everything appears to be equally important and everything seems to be another manifestation of the same Devi. My eternal thanks and praises to Her.
Sri matre namaha.

1 comments:

xara said...

speaking from an economics perspective...

"...developed countries having only one-third of the world's population consume 80% of the world's resources. therefore, an average consumer of the developed countries uses up almost sixteen times as much of the world's food, energy and material resources as his counterpart in the third world countries" (Growth and Development, misra-puri)

: )

that apart, although, i have never made a conscious effort at fasting, there have been times of necessary abstinence from the consumption that i take for granted... and the moments of clarity that come through at those points in time are rather beautiful...