As we journey through this year, we are exploring the gifts of the Graces, inviting them to bring their gifts of Radiance and Bliss into our lives. In order to receive these gifts, we are making sacred space, exploring the practices of many traditions that encourage personal discipline, sacred renunciation, and the giving up of comforts and luxuries from time to time.
For thousands of years, diverse cultures and faiths have used fasting as an important part of their practices. Some fast during spiritual initiation. The vision quests of the First Nations people of the Western Hemisphere almost always encourage some kind of fasting period. Pythagoras fasted 40 days for enlightenment, as did the Christian’s God, which is in fact being currently emulated by His followers. Fasting has played a key role in the spiritual journeys of Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad and Moses.
One of the five pillars of the Islamic faith is fasting. Every year during the month of Ramadan, Muslims throughout the world engage in a daily fast from sunrise to sunset. This fast is in part to bring about personal spiritual cleansing, but it is also to cultivate empathy for others. Similarly, the Mormon faith encourages fasting for at least two meals every first Sunday of the month and then donating money or food to charity. And the Zulus have a saying: “The continually stuffed body cannot see secret things.”
Although the traditional fasting of Islam’s Ramadan and Judaism’s Yom Kippur is in the Autumn, many groups have used the last days of Winter and earliest Spring as a time for fasting – a sort of spring cleaning of the body and spirit.
In some traditions of Chinese medicine, Spring is the time of the liver, whose energy is about making changes. Certainly, everything in Nature is in a state of profound change, as the energy of life and renewal awakens. The sap is rising in the trees as buds swell, and green shoots of bulbs push through the cold soil. There is even data indicating that treatment centers experience higher success rates in Spring than at any other time of the year.
As one proponent has described it, “Fasting is a knife that cuts away superficiality, getting to the bone.” Its effectiveness is powerful as it breaks up our daily patterns and habits that we take for granted. Fasting intentionally pushes our comfort zones.
Tomorrow, we’ll explore this in more depth.