Aug 26 2009

Fasting, A Classic Spiritual Practice

Since it is the month of Ramadan in Islam, the month of fasting, I thought it was a good time to talk briefly about fasting. I am not a Muslim anymore. I have mostly rejected the tenets of Islam, however fasting is one that I return to again and again.

Fasting is one of the great spiritual practices. Why? Some might argue that it is masochistic to deny oneself food all day. You will be hungry, and uncomfortable. You could become light headed and get head aches. Yes, all of those things and more. That is part of why it can become so profound. We in the west are so pampered and privileged that few of us understand hunger, that gnawing affliction that a billion persons face every day.

Fasting is important because it reminds of the notion that our full bellies are better related to the place of our birth than how hard we work or what spiritual path, if any, we follow. Sharing the discomfort of hunger gives us a place to be empathetic to others plight. Empathy is often missing from this conversation. And if that was all fasting gave the practitioner then it would be enough.

But fasting is more. It helps us remind us to practice gratitude a subject I blogged last about.

Beyond this, Fasting helps focus your attention on a spiritual concern. It removes the distractions of the physical pleasures and can help focus your spiritual energy on a subject of meditation or concern that requires some clarity. Fasting is the best for this.

Finally, Fasting reduces your desires. We have unsustainable desires and wants. We bathe in narcissism and short term gratification. Self Denial is not in our vocabulary. Fasting helps reframe the internal debate away from the me to the us.

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