Archive for the ‘fasting’ Category

Walking Your Walk   Leave a comment

“There’s nothing new under the sun” — traditional proverb.

But under the moon …

In Caitlin Matthews’ Celtic Devotional, the lunar meditation for Imbolc for this day is “Your Spiritual Quest Thus Far”. Rather than trying to assess how well I’m growing (what measures would I use?), or where my weaknesses lie (how often have you benefited from focusing on your shortcomings?), this meditation asks for something different: How’s my quest going?

It’s a great question, and it can be a tough one to answer adequately. If you’ve been on a quest for any length of time, you’ve noticed its quality has changed. As I grow, what I notice and look for and value will grow and shift as well. Maybe you’ve always sought the same thing, being the unswervingly upright, single-minded, and clear-eyed quester that you are, but I’d suspect the whole shebang (a profoundly scientific term) if my path didn’t reveal new vistas and challenges as I travelled along it.

Because I walk two different paths (though my suspicions just keep deepening that they’re really versions of the same journey, if only because they steal images, teachers, symbols, dreams, and everything else from each other) — because I walk two paths, as I’ve mentioned, the question feels particularly useful.

When I’m in doubt, I ask questions in turn. So is there anything I even idly imagine, let alone seriously think, would be more fulfilling and worthwhile? Because daydreams and fantasies are telling. Repressed material surfaces, seemingly random wishes and desires take form, and I can learn surreptitiously from what hasn’t yet stood careful scrutiny. I just have to be careful not to scare it off, timid woodland creature that it often is.

I let a delicious laziness steal up on me and cradle me for a moment, and imagine no need to take up a spiritual quest. I have friends, after all, who live their lives untroubled by the questions and practices and experiences that fill my days. They look at me as the odd man out. Perhaps, to judge by the great masses of my compatriots, they’re right.

Of course, I counter with the observation that the suffering I perceive in the lives of so many of my countrymen, to say nothing of anyone elsewhere in the world, in spite of the supposed luxuries of American life and its vast consumption of resources, is a clear symptom of spiritual hollowness, so it turns out we’re all on quest for something. Since the widespread perception in the West is of decline rather than improvement, an inkling of something rotten in Denmark, and D.C., of a gnawing sensation of something gone or going wrong, I venture to assert that numbing my doubts and unhappinesses with an even bigger gulp of more of the things frantic advertisers want me to buy won’t take away the pain. If there’s ever a Been-There-Done-That moment, then endless and mindless consumption surely qualifies.

So, to answer my own question, is there anything that calls to me, that proposes itself in place of the current spiritual quest I engage in?

Sure: going back to sleep. Blissful, untroubled slumber. Sleep is the theme of much social media — especially dreaming someone else’s dream (nightmare), less complicated than my own, or — sometimes — dreaming nothing at all. Letting myself be anesthetized by a waiting troupe of ready diversions — endless music and video-on-demand, newly-legal weed, endless waves of porn, another no-money-down adventure, the new-and-improved life that American society always dangles just beyond my cash-strapped nose. Even spirituality has been boxed, buffed, polished and marketed to the discerning (clueless) consumer: for a (hefty) price, you too can enjoy enlightenment in a weekend workshop, or a crash course of empowerments, blessings, trainings, practices, etc. God, nirvana, orgasm, all just a phone call and credit card away. Don’t believe in magic? Why would you? We’re already bespelled, magicked, ensorcelled, enchanted in a truly grim fairy tale, and it’s part of the spell to weaken our ability to detect its presence.

Is it any wonder so many people fast from social media, from advertising, from the Noise that strives to drown out our still small voices, those whispers of divine dissatisfaction that bless each of us and make the spiritual quest the best adventure of them all?

If you’re reading this blog, if you’ve initiated any kind of a spiritual quest at all, congratulations. You’ve already scored your first victory against distraction.

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Matthews, Caitlin. Celtic Devotional. Gloucester, MA: Fair Winds Press, 2004.

Doing the Work   Leave a comment

I don’t talk directly about the other path I follow, and that’s principally for my own benefit, so I can keep clear about where I am and what I’m doing at the moment. Obviously I can’t keep them separate, and there’s no reason to try. They feed each other constantly anyway, and often unexpectedly, too. Like when a teacher from the other path shows up as a Druid guide in a dream or meditation. Or an exercise originating in OBOD does nothing Druidy, but opens a door I thought was locked tight, or didn’t realize was a door in the first place, and shows me a new landscape I couldn’t even have imagined in my understanding of the other path. And that’s the short version of why I keep practicing both. Do the work, say both paths.

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Louisiana Live Oak near Gulf Coast Gathering, 1200+ years old

One of the practices of the other path, nothing particularly unique or esoteric in itself, is writing a monthly letter to one’s teacher surveying the past 30 days, noting discoveries and setbacks, places for focus, requests for help, dreams, encounters, insights from reading and study, and so on. It doesn’t have to get (e)mailed (though that can be its own practice), because the value is in the doing. No surprise, we receive in direct measure as we give.

I talk often here about the value of a daily practice, whatever form it may take. Certainly weekly and monthly cycles grow and build on that daily rhythm, whatever it is. (Start small, and with what feels appropriate.) Lapse in my daily discipline, and I see the larger cycles become more challenging. They have to pick up my slack. The weekly fast, physical or mental, that can be so cleansing, simply has more to clear away, and that can make it harder to move through. If it’s physical, food calls with an imperative clamor you would not believe unless you’ve tried it. If mental, every weakness seems to arrive and bid for attention. Or they take turns. And sitting to begin that monthly letter, which you might think would welcome such experiences as ready-made material to incorporate, instead throws up formidable writer’s block. I am called to do the work. Otherwise I sit still, and stagnate. No fun there.

Along with the letter, of immense value is working with a personal word or mantra. Many know and use traditional words and phrases — OM, amen, nam myoho renge kyo, allah hu akbar, and so on. And these practices prove their own worth, in groups and alone. But the personal word is a spiritual key, and it can unlock many doors, simply because it is tuned to my present consciousness. It echoes where I am today. And that means that if my current word wears down, as they do over time, asking for a new one is part of the practice.

Watching and listening for the new word is an exercise in itself. Sometimes it will present itself in contemplation, as if dropped in place like a stone in a pond. It may be an existing English word, or a non-English syllable or two or three. I try it out, the vibration engages, and I’m off. Testing it is an important part of using it. If I feel a habit loosen, a mood lift, an energy or pulse that shifts things usefully, I know it’s working. Other times, it appears in a newspaper headline, or on a billboard, or in casual conversation. A small inward chime goes off, and I recognize it. Or it comes calling multiple times, till I catch on and at last wake up to its persistent knocking.

These are just two of what we might call foundational practices, the kinds of things that can sustain a spiritual life, that less commonly examined flooring for ritual and ceremony, the underpinnings of magic for whatever is the next in the round of seasonal festivals, in this case Yule or the Alban Arthan rite at winter solstice, now less than a month away. Take on a daily practice and it usually will come to consist of a set of such foundations and supports, mini-rites or prayers or practices, recitations or visualizations, exercises or devotions that may range from lighting incense to offerings made to the four directions, to presenting oneself as a ready servant to a patron god or goddess, to community service, volunteer work, and so on.

A living practice evolves and shifts over time. This is a good thing. For some years because of my cancer, I couldn’t prudently practice a physical fast, so the mental one taught me something of what it has to teach. And teaching adolescents in a boarding school, while it was a job, also allowed me chances to serve, to listen, rather than fill other heads with my chatter all the time.

Doing the work each of us is called to do readies us for working together. (Is it any wonder we face such division and partisanship in the U.S. these days? How many of us if we’re filled with anger and distrust and fear are doing the work?) A wise OBOD Druid recently remarked, “When we commune together in song and revelry, we become friends. When we rise together in ritual, we become allies. When we take time and heart to initiate members into the order together, we become family”. Slowly I’m seeing more and more how friends, allies, family all depend on each of us doing the work.

I’m getting closer, though, to a place where fewer boundaries exist between my two paths.  It used to be that tempera paint, egg-based, stayed separate from oil painting, till someone with sufficient mastery thought to combine them. I can see such a point in what one might call the future, though if I can see it at all, the future in some sense has already arrived. I just have to catch up to what is inwardly waiting. Isn’t that the story of our lives, the ongoing possibility of manifesting what already dances across the River, on the other side of the moonlight?

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Some Prayers and Praying   Leave a comment

In the previous post I said I’d talk about prayers and praying. If there’s a blogger’s equivalent to stage fright, I get it at least 50% of the time. I commit, I step up, and — yup, there it is, running its paws along my spine. (It helps keep me paying attention to guidance I receive.) Who am I to write some of the stuff I’ve written? I’m a person like you, alive today. That’s all the authority any of us needs.

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front yard, hydrangeas, 17 August 2017

Anne Lamott’s Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers offers a helpful starting point for prayer and fasting. Because each of the three kinds of prayers in her title combine both: I can’t ask for help if I don’t fast from pride or despair. I can’t be grateful if I’m caught up in fear and anger, and so on. Prayer IS fasting, and vice versa — a magical choice to place our attention not where anybody else wants it but where we choose.

Sometimes all I  can do is ask for help. Often asking — even trying to ask — opens a door, especially if I can shut up before and after, even if it just means hearing the hinges squeak. Something’s in motion that wasn’t before.

After a three-year job search, I despaired of outside help. Persistence and patience between them do gather up tremendous reservoirs of energy. But you get in line, one of my wife’s go-to techniques, and you advance until it’s your turn just wasn’t working for me.

Until it did. Last week I received a solid job offer to do just what I’d been asking for. But because it was out-of-state, because it meant a move and other changes — because it asked me to grow into it — I immediately found several reasons to say, quite loudly, NO! Fortunately, just not to the person offering me the job. As U. K. LeGuin so gracefully puts it, I had to enlarge my heart to accept the gift.* And I had to recognize the gift as gift before I could even do that.

I ask you — what can the gods do with such mortals?!

Often, a lot.

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Hemlocks, north property line, 17 Aug. 2017

Other times you just want to say thanks. If I haven’t done so for a while, I can tell by how it feels to start up again. Like I’d forgotten a key ingredient. But now it’s back in the sauce, the mix tastes sweeter, the glue sticks, the paint dries to an appealing hue.

This blog offers guarantees very rarely, and for good reason. But practice no other prayer than gratitude for a year and a day, then get back in touch. I guarantee this triad: transformation, wonder, and a new conviction in you.

Wow is a third kind of prayer. If you choose, you can perceive awe as a form of tribute, a gift at the altar. “The finest emotion of which we are capable”, Einstein exclaimed. “is the mystic emotion. Herein lies the germ of all art and all true science”. Even if we scale it back for the sake of the skeptical among us, who doesn’t appreciate awe? How else to feel so small and so connected at the same time?

In a post from a few years ago I looked at a “prayer prompt” I still find valuable.

The prayer serves as a starting point for how I try to pray for others in difficulty without mucking things up further for them with what I think they need. It’s also more eloquent than I can usually manage to be, which never hurts either.

In the excerpt below, from Mary Renault’s splendid evocation of classical Greece, The Last of the Wine, a friend of the main character Alexias is speaking, near the tail end of the suffering that much of Greece experienced during the three brutal decades of the Peloponnesian War:

We have entreated many things of the gods, Alexias. Sometimes they gave and sometimes they saw it otherwise. So today I petitioned them as Sokrates once taught us: ‘All-knowing Zeus, give me what is best for me. Avert evil from me, though it be the thing I prayed for; and give the good which from ignorance I do not ask.’ — Mary Renault. The Last of the Wine. Pantheon Books, 1964, pg. 344.

Can I pray for what’s best for me, can I keep alert for its first stirrings when it arrives, even or especially when it’s not what I thought I wanted? If I can answer yes even some of the time, change can open my heart to possibilities I’d otherwise turn away from, if not actively shut down. Then maybe I’m ready to pray for others, too. (We won’t mention changes that come to all of us anyway, unasked for. Welcome, travelers of all realms, whisper the gods, to these worlds of time and space. Buckle up.)

Other times prayer means simply immersion. I go for a favorite walk, I sit with a favorite CD, a song or chant for meditation, or I follow a theme in a series of meditation sessions, and I’m in it. Borne away from here-and-now to there-and-then. Sometimes I only know when I return, like waking from a dream, that wherever I was, it sure wasn’t here. And I’m better for it.

Formal prayer has its place, too. As many do, I find Iolo Morganwg’s Gorsedd Prayer, also called the Druid Prayer, which Morganwg first spoke publicly at the 1792 summer solstice, a comfort:

Grant, O God/dess/Spirit/etc., thy protection,
and in protection, strength,
and in strength, understanding,
and in understanding, knowledge,
and in knowledge, the knowledge of justice,
and in the knowledge of justice, the love of it,
and in that love, the love of all existences,
and in the love of all existences, the love of God/dess/etc.,
and all goodness.

You may turn to other prayers, or you’ve written your own. I’ve mentioned sources like Caitlin Matthews’ Celtic Devotional. Sometimes all I can manage is the spontaneous cry of the heart, standing at my backyard fire circle, facing an indoor altar, or stunned to despair while I stand in the shower, hot water indistinguishable from tears. You go with what comes.

Sometimes it’s stillness I’m called to. In the stillness I may receive much. The blessing of turning off the monkey mind. Intimations of the future. A nudge towards or away a choice, a pattern, a practice, a person. Or any of a range of still small voices that will never shout to be heard, that have waited patiently for me to listen once again.

Sometimes it’s a reminder about a commitment I’ve made. In that case it’s a god invoking me, rather than the other way round. How have I answered, how will I answer, now? The offering I made was for my own good as well as a gift. The service I vowed transforms me in the doing of it, even as it fulfills a request by guide or god or spirit I have promised.

Sit, sing, and wait, counsels one of my teachers, if I need things to clarify, and no other path seems clear. And a book that same teacher delights in offers two additional pieces of advice, opening and closing the same paragraph: “Hold all and wait … Drop all and start over again.” Both valid, both true, both potent for good. How to know which to practice, other or either, if not both at once? I turn once again, I return, listening, praying, fasting. Don’t we all?

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LeGuin, U. K. A Wizard of Earthsea. Bantam Books, 1968, pg. 69.

Our -cosms, Prayer, and Fasting   Leave a comment

You’ve probably heard some version of it before.  It crops up like an overnight mushroom, whenever an event like Charlottesville or Brexit or Charlie Hebdo or Syria or Iraq or Rwanda or 9/11 or-or-or shakes us loose from our torpor and shrieks for attention, for a reaction. You can fill in your choice of event, from a whole ungainly series of them over the last year, decade, or lifetime.

We could quite accurately call the reaction the “20-40 rule”, courtesy of one of its literary expressions from some 80 years ago, in James Hilton’s Lost Horizon. The two speakers here are Chang, an inhabitant of the famed valley of Shangri-La, and Conway, the main character:

“We keep ourselves fairly up to date, you see”, he [Chang] commented.

“There are people who would hardly agree with you”, said Conway with a smile. “Quite a lot of things have happened in the world since last year, you know”.

“Nothing of importance, my dear sir, that could not have been foreseen in 1920, or that will not be better understood in 1940”.

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Now the argument here, a philosophical version of wait-and-see, has its obvious appeal as well as its downsides. In considerably less than a year, the political (or ecological or spiritual) landscape can shift dramatically. Irreversible change may swallow up — or end — lives. Wait for expanded understanding, however rich or apt, and it may simply arrive too late. Look solely at the long game, and I miss the immediate stakes.

But even knowing this, if you’re like many, you may start to experience “apocalypse fatigue”. You have little adrenalin or passion or initiative left in the tank. You’ve felt and you’ve empathized and you’ve resolved, and maybe you’ve also marched or written or witnessed or organized or simplified. Maybe you still do. Or maybe now you keep your head down and try to live your own life as best you can, because that’s all you feel you can do, as the world unquietly keeps crashing and burning. You brush off the ash and pick through the rubble — you stand up and do it again tomorrow. You endure.

For a thoughtful and balanced set of responses to crisis — not just one, and with Charlottesville simply the current face it wears — I suggest you read John Beckett’s 10 August ’17 post here. While we don’t always see things the same way, I value his hard-earned perspectives.

And when he observes, “My political posts weren’t well read, I didn’t particularly enjoy writing them, and every political post I wrote meant there was a religious, spiritual, or magical post that didn’t get written”, my experience echoes his. Long-time readers of this blog don’t come here for politics anyway.

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But here I want to look at an approach that I’ve found addresses the -cosms of the title, the keen needs of the moment as well as the more subtle draw of the long view, an approach that can serve the politically engaged and the quietly witnessing and the spiritually armed and ready, as well as the hermit sage. In a word, stamina. Fortitude, courage — though not quite the same thing. Staying power.

The approach sources, among other wells and fountains, the wisdom of the Galilean Master, who counseled prayer and fasting. And to make it a Druidic triad, we’ll add listening, because listening is another face it wears. Listening, prayer and fasting. LPF.

And that means listening to all of our -cosms, macro- and micro- and meso-, too — all our worlds, and the world “in between”, this middle earth where we spend so many of our daily hours. I’ve found if something’s shaking in one world, the others vibrate with it, too.

I’ll go personal from here forward, because that’s often how I think and talk best. If it’s true for me, it may — or may not — also work for you. But you’ll see it tried out with me first.

If I don’t fast from frequent tugs towards anger or fear, if I don’t re-connect with the innermost truths I know, I can’t pray (or act) effectively. I drag along the trash and flotsam and jetsam from others’ anger and fear. Don’t need ’em. Got enough of my own to let go of. This happened most recently in a job situation I won’t go into, because I’m still praying and fasting about it. Work-in-progress. Material for an upcoming post.

The danger of another’s anger and fear is I may not recognize them until I make them my own. I may confuse them with almost anything but a limitation. Unless I fast from their effects, listen to their seed-causes, and pray, I open the door to them. Now in addition to my own, I’ve invited in another’s fear and anger.

So if I’m not praying, I can’t fast or act with justice to myself or anyone else. And without praying, I can’t listen. Some of my prayer will be silence, a space where counsel from wise guides and teachers and ancestors and spirits has room to reach me.

Without this practice, whether I launch myself into a protest march at the statehouse in Montpelier, Vermont’s capital, or weed my garden and share with my neighbor a bundle of chard or a basket of carrots or — soon — potatoes, I’m missing my best path.

Because whether I link arms with another protester or cross my yard to my neighbor’s and listen to his life over the past few weeks, I’ll miss what I most need, and miss what I most have to give. The opportunity, the exchange, is often a seeming small one. But that’s why I need to listen or I miss it.

This has happened so many times to me, both the listening and also the missing-the-moment, that I’m actually beginning to learn it. (Like I’ve often said here, I can be really thick and slow about these things.)

The test, always, for me, is the quality of the encounter, the sense of rightness. This sense doesn’t exclude physical difficulty. Whether I’m about to go into surgery, or face an angry person waving a sign on the street corner, or talk with a friend, the words, the tone, the energy exchanged between us is my guide. How does it manifest? Can I watch the exchange without deep attachment to its outcome? Can I watch the — for lack of a better word — the ecology of the moment work its own energy?

I’ve acted, prepared, prayed and fasted and listened. Now comes the wonder, when I’ve gotten out of the way of Spirit manifesting in the situation. Or not.

For me, the listening IS the prayer and fasting. The fasting IS the prayer, and the prayer IS the fasting. One of the best Druid triads I know.

Pray and fast, and things go smoother for everyone, not just me, whatever I do. Miss the optimum alignment, and I discover that, too. This is my love laboratory, this world where we all are trying out our truths, where the test, in the end, is this: Does it build? Does it open? Does it give? Does it connect? Have I served?

And what forms of prayer might work? Material for the next post.

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Earth Work: Illness, Fasting, and Samhain   3 comments

[Edited 20 June 2018]

Ah, Samhain, you’re here again. This solemn time to honor our dead and acknowledge the things that have passed from our lives. This joyous time to celebrate the harvest and the warmth of friends and loved ones to carry us through the dark half of the year. This reminder of the balance inherent in all transient things. Our work, if we choose, with the earth.

Halloween-time, to carve a pumpkin, set out the candy for the trick-or-treaters, remember to put the car in the garage the previous evening so next morning the windows aren’t all frosted over. Time for mulled cider, fallen leaves, bonfires, the possible gift of a few more mild, bright days before the snow comes. As a friend remarked yesterday, Halloween is the true start of our winter, here in the Northeastern U.S. where I live. The earth doing its thing. Earth-work.

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Ushtogaysky Square, Kazakhstan — immense millennia-old earthworks make headlines …

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NASA photo at the New York Times link above

X marks the spot of a different kind of earth-work. (We’re always at the center.) I jump from this macrocosmic image to the microcosm of my personal work on earth. After you’ve finished groaning, come with me, to see whether whatever I can mine from it has any value for you, for this blog. Here goes …

Over the past several days a virus has been racking my joints and muscles and leaving me achy, feverish, weak. In other words, no gift to take along with me to an early Samhain celebration an OBOD friend was hosting last night. He lives “across the water” in New Hampshire, and the dozen or so folks he expected to join him included out-of-towners bringing kids and planning to sleep over. (The Samhain ritual took place later in the evening, after a typical Halloween party for the younger set).

forty-day-word-fastSo I stayed home instead, built up the fire, hydrated myself with tea and soups, and slept. Sometimes what we leave behind gets pried from us through mild (or great) suffering. Sometimes, of course, we can leave it more willingly. And we can try to make something of it, if there’s anything left of us in the moment, and turn to old spiritual technologies like fasting that may have slipped out of fashion but have never lost their worth.

We already fast when we refuse to accept the memes of fear and despair and business-as-usual of too much modern life. We purge. We deny some negative shard a foothold, most effectively by replacing it with a positive alternative. If you’re interested in anything, why not start where it’s actually already a part of your life? In my life, if I look around, this seems to be true of many more things than I’d ever believed possible. How many access-points and footholds and innate spiritual “flux-capacitors” (courtesy of the Back to the Future wiki) we have for almost anything we can imagine. Transform, transform, whispers the cosmos.

muslim-fastMany people think fasting belongs to Christianity. No meat — fish is fine! — on Fridays. Look Medieval, and maybe skeletal monks and nuns come to mind. Ascetics whipping themselves with a cat of nine tails.

There’s the Yom Kippur fast. Or, if you have a Muslim co-worker or friend, you’ve possibly heard them talk about keeping the fast for the month of Ramadan. Not to pick on Muslims, as the ubiquitous Gene Wilder memes like the one to the left would wrongly imply: anyone can be obnoxious and obvious about such practices, which is one reason they go through cycles and fall out of favor for a while. Mirror, mirror on the wall.

For about a decade I fasted once a week. This was a significant practice of the other spiritual path I follow. Like many disciplines, fasting’s less daunting after you actually do it a few times. You learn how your body reacts, how to ease into it the day before, how to come off a fast, what food and drink work best for your own particular circumstances and body chemistry and goal. Partial fast, water or juice fast, complete fast. (Ooh, you’re hardcore.)

Headaches from dehydration? Sure. Greater susceptibility to cold, since you’re not stoking the furnace several times during the day? Yep. Bad breath? Perfectly possible. Absolute joy at breaking a fast — how delicious almost any decent (or indecent) food tastes, how much the fast may have subtly reset some of your programming, how your dream recall can be improved, how an old habit may loosen its hold, how you have more faith in and less fear of your own body? Check, check, check.

come-at-meA fast can be difficult, sure. But not, I usually found, because of hunger. That comes and goes, and it’s often the least challenging aspect of fasting. No, to many others besides just me, one of the truly interesting parts of a fast is what it may reveal about attitudes, attachments and mindsets that deserve a careful look. And it’s just the scrutiny they don’t usually get in the scramble to ingest the daily three squares, plus the obligatory snacking an overfed Westerner like me makes sure to practice as faithfully as any religious devotee. Food Yoga, anyone? Follow the Calorie Sutra? Junk-food Gita? The venerable Maha-salsa-and-chips? Down with that.

A physical fast also begins to open up unforeseen and potential valuable energies for other things than preparing, consuming and digesting food. Plenty of books and other resources address those advantages.

And for clarity and vision-questing around Samhain, a fast can offer one more valuable tool to those who want to look beyond the usual boundaries and curtains over our awareness.

As I’ve aged, and as accumulated physical issues make a food-fast a cause of more problems than benefits, I’ve turned more to mental fasts. (This could be one alternative to people struggling with food issues like bulimia and anorexia.) In addition to its purpose as a ritual offering, a devotion which deserves its own post, keeping the attention on a chosen object, image, mantra, deity, etc., for a twenty-four hour period drops all kinds of issues front and center stage. Lacking things to work on? Feeling like I fully qualify for Ancient Honorable Thrice-Sanctified Adeptus XI? Nothing quite like a fast to reveal my crap-of-the-day and put me in my place.

So I take inventory every hour and return, return, return the attention to its focus. Technology helps. (Got the latest fast-app?! A simple e-timer can help a lot. Try a “tasteful chime,” as one friend calls it.)

How good is my concentration? Is my chosen focus for the day even worthwhile? What is devotion, anyhow? What distracts me the most? What claims to be more important, or insists it’s a valid priority? How do I respond to others who ask why I may seem a little absent-minded or distracted today? Do I listen carefully enough to perceive who really wants to know, and who — if I tell them — may mock what they don’t understand? How much of this particular fast is just an exercise of ego or will-power, and how much is meaningful devotion?

OK, you get the idea. Illness can provide a natural push toward a mental fast. You can’t jump into your normal routine, you may find yourself in bed, and rather than relying on cable, Netflix, Hulu, net-surfing or some other drug of choice to fill every single minute you’re not moaning for sympathy, soaking in warm water to soothe your unhappy bone-house*, tossing and turning because you can’t sleep, or downing pills, extracts, roots, powders, potions or elixirs, why not use even a fraction of the time to experiment … on yourself? Best laboratory ever! No? Still not convinced?

I’m a sucker for squeezing every experience for what I can gain from it. (At least that’s what I tell myself. Some future fast will without a doubt show me where that’s no longer true, or never was.)

Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to a holiday fest this evening with some friends and neighbors. Just the four of us.  A mostly veggie potluck meal, because that’s what’s come from our gardens. A short blessing (probably the one that opens my About page) in lieu of a longer ritual. And the fasting I did yesterday, imperfect, illness-prodded, leaves me grateful to today to be feeling better. No small thing.

Here for your delectation is a short Youtube clip from the 2014 Edinburgh Samhuinn Fire Festival:

Happy Samhain/Halloween to you all!

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Images: 40-day word fast; Gene Wilder fast-meme picCome at me, bro!;

*Old English bán-hús: body, chest; literally, “bone-house.”

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