Why do people fast and what is the meaning behind it?
Fasting is an act of willing abstinence or reduction from certain foods or drinks, or both for a certain period of time. We’ve all done it, whether we’ve realized it or not. Many of us have had a horrible morning with a vicious hangover and have stopped drinking for a period of time. I’m also pretty sure that at one point you’ve decided to stay away from a particular food that gave you food poisoning or made you feel sick.
I don’t think fasting only has to do with food and drinks, and its purpose is not just to stay away from something. It has more to do with the intention behind it. To take it even further, after the intention is set, then the act or discipline of what’s been stated must be followed.
We’ve all heard the saying that so and so had “good intentions” or “means well.” That’s great. We definitely want to surround ourselves with others who are thoughtful and sincere, though it shouldn’t just end there. Many “good intentions” have gone down the wrong road because the discipline and willing action didn’t match the original statement.
For instance, to state to someone “I love you” then repeatedly abuse them is confusing. The abuser tells the victim they “didn’t mean to” hurt them, yet repeatedly do. A “man of integrity” who cheats on their spouse doesn’t coincide with who they are claiming to be. To say “I like to live a healthy, active life” yet the reality is that person is eating fast food every day on the couch in front of the TV doesn’t match the stated intention.
So what does this have to do with fasting?
Fasting is beneficial because it allows one to have a reflection period, set a stated intention, then follow and work through a process within a certain parameter. Some people may say that fasting is prideful and ego-based, as if the faster is trying to prove something to themselves or to someone else that they can overcome, accomplish, or say they did it. Many (if not all) decisions we make are based around ourselves.
Some say fasting brings you closer to God. I’m not sure if that’s exactly true and realistic. But maybe if you’re giving up something (for example, social media or TV), then perhaps space will open up and become available for prayer or meditation.
It seems that when we are in extreme pain or when something in our life completely falls apart, then all of a sudden we find ourselves reaching out to a Higher Being for answers. Yet what about those moments of pure joy and contentment where time is standing still? What about after the tears have been shed and you get up from the floor? Are those moments available to you?
In the tradition of Lent, some people fast in preparation for the arrival of Jesus on Easter. I’m not sure you can ever prepare yourself for the arrival of God, or anything, for that matter. Things arrive when they do and oftentimes one is never fully prepared.
No matter how many books you read or classes you take on birthing, I don’t think anyone is ever whole-heartedly prepared when their baby’s head first pops out into the world. Oftentimes we’re not fully prepared to change jobs, walk down the aisle, start exercising, experience a family death, walk away from a relationship or move to a new country. The stated intention is set, the stage and parameters are in front of you, and the opportunity is available to live out what’s been stated.
In the past, I’ve done vegetable broth/juice cleanses in which I would not eat solid food for about five days. I’ve fasted from speaking while on a 10-day silent meditation retreat. I fasted from my phone for a month while I was on a pilgrimage in Spain and this past winter, I turned off my phone and Internet for 10 days. It was quite freeing and I became available to see what was outside my window instead of what I was trying to control on my personal telephone screen.
This time, I’m deciding not to eat meat or chocolate until Easter. Why? First of all, my eating became out of control over the holidays. After a huge laundry list of stressful events took place, I found solace through food. I’m taking this season as an opportunity to reflect on my behaviors, as well as take a close look at some things I’m prioritizing and putting my hopes in. I’m attempting to shed or “fast away” certain things that aren’t leading toward fulfillment or providing fruition. Doing this fast will also help get me in a mode of discipline and routine, which ultimately brings flexibility and freedom.