Fasting, and the Numinous
I didn’t eat for four days in the hopes of meeting God.
I’m not into ‘health.’ I’m not motivated by it. It doesn’t stir my drink. It doesn’t grill my patty. It’s a theme I suppose I should care about. I’m nearing thirty, and I have some hereditary baggage; diabetes is a known presence in my family. But I do wonder whether I’m missing something fundamental about being a human when I don’t attend to my body long-term.
So, when my husband embarked on a seven day fast (saintly), I decided to pop in for the final four in the hopes of… I wasn’t quite sure. Prevent cancer? Alright. Autopha-gize old cells that may turn into Alzheimer’s one day? Sounds good, I guess. Converse with the Absolute? Hey, now there’s an idea.
I suppose my only hope was that it’d be religious, though I didn’t quite know how or why. Fasting of some kind is encouraged in most esoteric practices, so I thought it might be some sort of proverbial red phone that’d allow me direct access to the Is, bypassing the meditators and gurus and Himalayan temples.
(This is, of course, problematic in that I’m not sure that going into an experience for the mere purpose of finding God is the way to God. Always felt like this motivational habit was off-putting for the Big Guy. Can’t say you want it even if you secretly want it.)
In any case, I figured at worst, it’d be a primal challenge, and at best, it’d be a heavenly chat with the True Nature of Things. I even thought I’d write something about it (see: this), and that’d it be fascinating and illuminating and full of brilliant unparalleled esoteric insight.
Day 1. My mind was empty more than clear.
The way The Bros talk about it, I thought I’d be super productive. This was largely untrue. I mostly wanted to lie in bed, and I hardly had the will to do much more than stare out the window. I didn’t actually mind this, though. My baseline is a sort of agitated impatience, which is nice for productivity but poor for contemplation. Within about twenty-four hours, I was content to settle into the sturdy quietness of my surroundings, which felt warm and pastoral. The day became a kind of fuzzy goo that replaced my normal anxieties and worries. I was focused on hunger in a way that distracted me from whatever it was I had been worrying about the day before - and knowing that I wasn’t going to get satisfaction anytime soon allowed me to watch the grumbling sensation in my stomach like a disinterested therapist. I was focused; just not on what I thought fasting would make me focused on.
Day 2. The time dilation was interesting.
I’d heard days seem longer during a fast, and thought it was an exaggeration. Normally I eat for, what, 45 minutes a day in total, right? I think what I overlooked here is the amount of time I spend padding meal-times with thoughts and plans and expectations. Meals break up my day like sign-posts and digesting those meals expend a certain amount of unconscious energy, too. I typically eat twice a day and had failed to realize that for about forty-five minutes after each meal my brain fuzzily flatlines into a deceptively quiet digestive abyss. It’s a subtle enough state to function and complete tasks and whatnot, but when I experienced my second non-digestive day, I remained alert enough to notice that something was drastically elongating my feeling of wakefulness. I’d liken it to going an evening without sleep, or living in the eternal summer of California. It’s hard to pin down the timing of events when experiences roll into one another without obstacle. At this point in time, I was expectant and ready for the divine waiter to serve me a plate of satiating holy revelations - but I continued to remain both bored and hungry. I felt a bit like a girl at a restaurant twenty minutes after her date was supposed to arrive.
It’s worth noting that I was hungry, and remained hungry - but it did break my brain a bit to learn, experientially, that I did not, strictly speaking, need to eat. It’s a simple but startling fact to assimilate. That grumble in your stomach that tells you to eat? You can listen to it. You can also not, and shockingly, you will continue to live for some time after that cue is deployed despite the feeling that you won’t. I suppose there’s something meditative in that revelation. Speaking of:
Day 3. Meditation was a breeze.
Which is to say, as a regular meditator, I skipped past most of the mental chatter that normally takes about fifteen minutes for me to bypass. In pursuit of breaking up my day, I meditated for an hour or two as opposed to my usual thirty minutes, which was a far less daunting task than it’d normally be. (Though, admittedly I was, uh, partially committed to longer sessions as a way of passing the time.) I had been excited before my first sit on day one, wondering what empty-stomached holiness would bring to the experience - but by day three, I knew what it’d bring, and the answer was - nothing. I suppose a few staunch Buddhists are lovingly nodding their heads in agreement here. As the great holy scripture reads, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try real hard, you might just get what you need.”
My great challenge, if you haven’t gleaned this already, has always been Purpose. I wind myself up about focusing on it, too, which creates an ouroborial cycle of striving to end striving. I understand I’m to sit without expectation. The prize is in the empty space between action and longing. The gift is recognizing there is no gift. I know I’m to present myself to the present, like a cute bow-wrapped girl emerging from a birthday cake to dance for the Birthday Boy with non-conditional earnestness. It’s hard to let go of expecting things - but as I sat, and the longer I sat, I didn’t need to let go, the expectation gently retreated on its own, and didn’t make a fuss on its way out.
Day 4. The Numinous.
In pursuit of a conversation with God, I found that by day four I did not have the energy to talk to God, even if he had wanted to, which I’m guessing he didn’t.
I needed to conserve any and all reserves for walking up stairs and filling up water glasses. The fuzzy goo that had seeped into my skull on day one had taken over the contents of my brain entirely. The goo formed a kingdom of not-giving-a-fuck and ruled with a jello-fist.
I entered the fast in hopes of gaining something, but lost much more than I gained, and in doing so, did actually find something relatively religious - though, like all great mystical experiences, it was not in the manner in which I had expected.
I stopped caring about if the experience would be divine, and in that itself, a great weight was lifted. I went to the beach and dipped my toes in the sand before collapsing entirely into it, too tired to walk. My feet felt lead-filled. I wondered with a removed curiosity why I had been so focused on achieving some sort of nondescript luminous awakening when before me was a great ocean, and a sun, and a beautiful woman with a large beige hat showing her toddler how to build a sandcastle. Had I been worried about communing with God? Why didn’t I just go outside and eat a bowl of rice instead? What exactly, was the point again?
The barrier between my brain and Experience, which had previously consisted of concrete words and feelings that had almost nothing to do with Experience itself had eroded. And there I was, hungry, and raw, and sleepy. I did not know what time it was. I was not floating through an illuminated galactic soup, though I thought a warm bath might be nice. I did not have supra-natural control over my environment, I did not feel wise, and I did not meet a God that looked any different from the invisible astral current that draws my eyelids open each morning. I didn’t think about tomorrow, or yesterday. I was at the beach. I was there, I was right there. It was a day, I was in it, I was sitting. I was sitting.
When I finally ate the next morning, I had a persimmon. It was tasty, and I wanted more. I thought about what I’d write. I thought back to the beach, and the great freedom of being there, but in doing so, I’d already missed the point.