(or How I Learned Just How Much I Rely On Food)
It is amazing how much you learn about yourself when you take away the basics, the stuff you do so much on a daily basis that it's become second nature or habit. I've been fasting from sunrise until sunset for the past 9 days (of 19), meaning no food or drink, and it's something that I've been doing as a Bahá'í since I was 15, something I've come to look forward every time it comes around. For Bahá'ís it symbolises a month of focusing on our inner, spiritual selves before the new year starts the evening of March 20th - and to be honest, it's the most amazing way of preparing yourself for another year.
"It is often difficult for us to do things because they are so very different from what we are used to, not because the thing itself is particularly difficult." - On Behalf of Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 342
Initially there's the challenge of not eating or drinking all day, which I find gets easier as the fast goes on - and the challenge of relearning what you can actually eat. You learn how to focus on the foods that matter, prioritising water above everything; there are mornings I get up a little late and make sure that I at least drink a litre of the stuff before my day starts. By this point in the Fast I'm down to miniature portions, virtually no tea (which is shocking for me), and handfuls of almonds & dates - stomach shrink is real.
The biggest challenge I've encountered - one that seems to shapeshift on a daily basis to keep me on my toes - is that of dealing with just how dependent I am on food for maintaining a daily sense of order. Sure, changing your schedule to get up at 5am and try to be in bed early enough to make that happen (or nap during the day) is a bit tricky, but I've noticed just how much my emotional regulation and general functioning suffers during the Fast. My motivation for self-propelled projects slides and I tend to turn inward, I start to feel a little less stable without the foods I turn to for regulation (tea, biscuits, nuts, etc), I get reluctant to do any kind of exercise, and my desire to socialise goes right out the window.
What I'm learning from all of this is how much of my behaviour sits in the realm of the subconscious mind, how many things I do without thinking and what that means for me. It blows my mind that the simple act of moving two meals to the farthest ends of the day and eliminating one throws me off course. I see how often that having a cup of tea in my hand whilst meeting with someone gives me a sense of comfort and a little distraction (what else are my hands supposed to do?). I've also completely underestimated what I'm capable of without the basics, not that I've been doing more than usual, but there seem to be so many reinforcements in our society about how frail our bodies are without certain things - when I've found a well of untapped energy in just the joy of being alive.
"Besides all this, prayer and fasting is the cause of awakening and mindfulness and conducive to protection and preservation from tests ..." - Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá'í World Faith p. 368
Lessons so far? Focus on being present as much as possible, aware of who and how I am. And how good tea is.