Two years ago, I was living in the forest of the Southern Alps and fasted for three days to celebrate the New Year.
This year, I ended up in the Spanish colonial ‘white city’ of Arequipa in the sierra of Peru at 2300m altitude, after nearly a week of no sleep, and ended up fasting accidentally to combat the head explosion from simply not enough oxygen and the worsening cold. The fact that I was down to my last $15 helped – it was liberating, really. I didn’t feel like I had to go out and buy things to eat just to please people anymore.
When I tell people I am fasting, it makes everyone I know uncomfortable.
Most of them express their sheer discomfort as sadness or frustration or concern. In the “You shouldn’t be doing that,” kind of way, or the “Aren’t you skinny enough already,” kind of way or the “You’re going to faint / lose energy / die,” kind of way. Perhaps the latter relates more to my mother and some close friends than anything.
I feel extremely hurt and saddened by these kinds of comments. I feel angry – angry at a global system, a few-thousand year history of agriculture that has made us so addicted to sugars and carbohydrates that people go a few hours without food and their blood sugar drops so hard they’re incoherent and about to faint or with crazy headaches. I feel frustrated that we live in a culture with a three meals a day mentality – I’m not a lab rat, and I certainly don’t need three meals a day in clockwork regularity (or six meals, or whatever the mantra is).
“We need chaos in our souls to give birth to a dancing star.”
We’ve lost touch with the mystic, the magic, the unknown in many ways. We demonise ancient knowledge. We have a history of locking up ‘witches’ – or women who know how to work with plants for healing – and denouncing anything which hasn’t been ‘scientifically proven’ (read: appeared in a peer-reviewed journal generally paid for by the industry trying to maintain profits who has hired the researcher in the first place). We think everything is explicable – given enough data – and are totally fooled by randomness. We wouldn’t recognize randomness if it danced stark naked in front of us wearing nothing but Dobby’s old tea cosy.
The same applies for the human body. We think things here – as elsewhere in nature – must surely be ‘predictable,’ or ‘causal,’ or ‘make sense.’ Well – as soon as one’s heart beats with 100% regularity, you die. It’s irregularity and the power law that builds muscle, not reps every day.
But that’s all head-space stuff. I am not even particularly concerned if it’s ‘not true’. The heart-space stuff is this: I feel better when I eat when I am really hungry and not out of habit, to please my family / friends / people around me or just to have the feeling of something tasty being in my mouth. It’s one of the big reasons I don’t like going home – my mother has such an overbearingly but you’re going to DIEEEEEEEE kind of mentality that I feel like putting my tail between my legs and scurrying off to the other side of the world.
I feel angry and sad and lonely because I guess, ultimately, I’m needing acceptance. And to be understood. Without words.
I don’t want to have to justify myself. Even saying I’m going with the flow feels too much; I would jump buildings to be around people who don’t even ask the question. Who don’t even say, the soup is ready, feel free to eat it whenever you feel like it. Even that’s just too much. I feel hyper-sensitive to all of these, perhaps because I fear judgment and non-acceptance.
This is one of the reasons I love travelling. I can reinvent myself wherever I go. I’m ‘odd’ or ‘stranger’ (‘extranjera’) just by the very fact that I’m travelling so one more little oddity isn’t a biggie – and people understand how exhausting it can all be and the idea of your body ‘just needing to chill out and take a break.’ Only sometimes have I had internal freak-outs at having to be a civilized human being and sit and eat at the table with everyone else – I almost always eat sitting on the floor at home. I guess one of the reasons fasting is just so easy and works so well for me is because I’m not addicted to stimulants that make my energy or blood sugar levels yo-yo – be it sugars, carbohydrates, fats, or coffee/ black tea. So there’s no energy drop, no sugar low – it’s always nicely low. And that’s optimum for me.
I feel lighter when I fast – mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically, of course. I suppose this is why programmes like MKP and Animas Valley and Vision Quest have all used the age-old technique of abstinence from food from being able to access different parts of themselves without the (sometimes unnatural) drive for FOODFOODFOOD getting in the way. My head feels clearer. I do calculations and memorise hundreds of pages of notes lightning fast. I get up in the morning and get the vast majority of my work done before I’ve taken a single bite – not quite six impossible things before breakfast, but almost. I feel emotionally more connected to people when I’m not thinking about eating. I feel spiritually more connected to the world. I have more energy, feel happier and more liberated, strangely.
And most of all, I appreciate remembering what hunger, real hunger not just I feel like eating feels like afterwards.
I don’t really know what the best rhythm for me for fasting is. I think that’s it – eating without ‘rhythm’ (i.e. out of habit like clockwork) and instead in ‘flow’ seems to be the key for me. If you mention you ‘eat irregularly’ to people though, that freaks them out. I’m not entirely sure why this is – perhaps because of some cultures and (war) periods that have known famine, real famine, so the balance just tips the other way.
Anyway. Fasting is a beautiful, spiritual practice. It’s saddening and frustrating to me to see it demonised in such a way. I jump buildings to be around people who accept me, just as I am, no questions asked.