This morning I woke up an hour earlier than usual to make sure I had time to pray, meditate, eat, and hydrate before the sun came up. The moment the alarm sounded I swiveled out of bed and padded across the room. In the perfect blackness I grabbed a liter of water off my dresser and downed it in one continuous gulp.
I then shuffled off to the bathroom, but was careful to keep my eye on the illuminated dial of the clock. Sometimes I can get immersed in my smartphone while sitting on the pot first thing in the morning and before I know it twenty or thirty minutes have gone by. With sunrise ticking like a time bomb I knew I couldn’t spare those minutes.
Not on a Fast morning.
My alarm had fluttered me awake at 5:00 AM.
The sun would rise at 6:41 AM.
That might sound like a lot of time, but experience has proven it to be barely enough.
By 5:10 I was in the guest bedroom with the door closed. I was making good time. My soul did a little happy dance. I could treat myself to my very favorite Fast Prayer. I hadn’t gotten to say it in almost exactly a year.
I felt the gravity of the privilege.
I flipped through the pages and familiarized myself again with the length and structure of the prayer. It was five minutes before I was ready to utter the first syllable.
I slowed down and sat above my shoulders, reminding myself to savor every word.
Tingles galloped up my spine.
It took twelve minutes.
The meditation part I do every morning.
In fact, lately I’m on a roll. I haven’t missed a session in 2015.
But once the meditation was over, I found that I had barely enough time to prepare and eat breakfast.
Reason being, I was going to eat a Very Big Breakfast.
Just over double what I eat on a normal day.
Weighed and measured, of course. And fully pre-planned.
Enough to get me to the late afternoon without a hunger growl.
That’s all I need.
The last few hours I can coast on fumes.
Plus, I needed time to drink another liter of water, and a massive mug of hot tea.
That would sustain me until sundown, when I would break Fast with a smaller than normal dinner.
No food or drink (including water) from sunrise to sunset feels like a long stretch in this day and age, but the truth is that it’s a sliver of what we evolved to endure.
Nevertheless, that’s what the Fast calls for. No more, no less. Just like Ramadan.
March 2nd through March 20th is the time of the Baha’i Fast. It ends on the day of the equinox, which, in the Northern Hemisphere, is the first day of spring. It’s also New Year’s Day in the Baha’i Faith, a symbolism I find delightful.
If for everything there is a season—a time to be born, a time to die, a time to sow, and a time to reap—then I believe this is the time to fast.
Baha’is aren’t the only ones called to fast now. The estimated 1.2 billion Roman Catholics in the world are observing lent. And in the Jewish faith, the Fast of Ester occurs during this same time period.
So we’re in good company.
I fast for 19 days before the first day of spring now, but I haven’t always.
In fact, I never fasted once before I became a Baha’i on March 22nd, 1998.
Whether the timing was auspicious or inauspicious I can’t say, but either way, enrolling at that particular time of year gave little old 24-year-old me 345 days to mentally gear up for her first Fast.
But it was worth the wait.
That first Fast bore gifts.
It gave me my husband.
He was there, patiently waiting for me, from the day we first met at Joe and Melissa Fargnoli’s wedding on December 5th, 1998. But it took the Fast in March to burn away the veils that kept me blind to his full gorgeousness. When the Fast ended there he was, and I finally saw him.
Really saw him.
We were married three months later.
Then, the Fast in 2010 gave us our littlest daughter, Maya.
That’s a more intricate story laced with gory details of my reproductive system, but suffice it to say that the way I changed my food plan during the Fast allowed me to establish a regular cycle, something I hadn’t had in over a decade.
Maya came shortly thereafter.
I hope I’m not offending anyone by dressing the Fast up in a Santa Claus outfit, but, for what it’s worth, I actually feel that the analogy is rather apt.
Fasting bears fruits. Some spiritual, some physical.
In spiritual terms, fasting detaches us from the appetites of the flesh, reminds us of the suffering of the destitute, reinvigorates the spirit, and brings us closer to God.
It creates space in the soul, and in that space, we can make the necessary rearrangements that will enable our continued growth.
The fruits of the physical fast can be similarly profound.
Extended water-only fasting has been shown to improve or eliminate all manner of ailments, including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, epilepsy, pancreatitis, arthritis, asthma, depression, schizophrenia, irritable bowel syndrome, parasites, uterine fibroids, eczema, psoriasis, and about half a dozen other conditions.
I have never been plagued by any pain or disease seriously enough to consider giving up food for days or weeks on end to seek relief, but I have no doubt that if I were to develop such an affliction today, I would flee to TrueNorth to fast it away.
The TrueNorth Health Center is North America’s only destination for medically supervised water fasting. Last summer I had the privilege of being invited to TrueNorth to consult with Dr. Alan Goldhamer, a word’s expert in water fasting. In that one short visit, I became a believer.
I suspect that if I had known about TrueNorth at the height of my food addiction, I would have signed on for an extended water fast in hopes of effecting a cure.
It’s quite ironic then, that after I started my Bright Line Eating™ journey in 2003, I shied away from fasting for many years, lest I disrupt the precious equilibrium I had finally found with food.
Fasting is a common practice in all the world’s major religions. Equally common is an exemption that allows for people who are ill, weak, pregnant, traveling, and the like, to refrain from fasting.
For seven long years I knew, deep down, that the “illness” exemption applied to me.
I was not robust enough to fast.
I truly feared that removing lunch from my daily plan might destabilize me and throw me back into the horrors of binging.
But I was sad not to fast.
I consoled myself by pointing out that, in a way, I fasted already, every day. I didn’t eat one single morsel of food between meals. Not a bite. Ever.
And I observed the Fast by saying the special prayers. I also made an effort to eat my breakfast before sunrise and my dinner after sunset…and my lunch midday but quickly.
Then, a few years ago, as March came around I felt called to fast again.
I no longer felt exempt.
I didn’t feel weak; I felt robust.
I knew I could handle it. It was my time.
That was the fast that gave me Maya.
Now each year I look forward to fasting. Quite intensely, in fact.
I mark the year by it.
My soul yearns for it.
The Fast is a precious time.
In the Baha’i writings it says that every hour of these days is endowed with a special virtue, inscrutable to all save God.
I feel that special virtue. It’s palpable.
The days feel different. It’s as though I’ve been living in plain text all year and now suddenly I’m living in a world of highlighted text.
The breaths have more space.
Sunrise and sunset become sacred times, marked by import and weight.
I feel the cleansing.
Yesterday I had the privilege of helping someone who has been doing Bright Line Eating™ for six months to figure out how to rearrange her food plan so that she can fast for Lent.
I explained how she could do a sunrise to sunset fast by front-loading her fuel prior to the fast, and eating sparsely at the end of the fast, when her metabolism will be slow and bedtime will be coming quickly anyway.
She is a devout Christian, a retired minister, and by the end of our conversation her voice sounded so light and happy that I thought she would dance a jig.
And I was excited for her.
She is getting to reintroduce fasting into her journey a full six-and-a-half years before I did.
So many gifts.
Such a bounty.
Abstinence from food is just a symbol really, but like so many other physical disciplines, until you try it, you will never know what benefits it confers.
The tree that is most pruned yields the most abundant fruits.