Friday, January 8, 2010

Fasting and Enlightenment

In late 2005 I devised a plan for losing weight. I was, at the time, about 220 lbs and wearing a size 18-20. I had low energy and a troubling skin condition called Hidridenitis supporativa. I wanted to be able to wear beautiful clothes, feel sexy and beautiful, and create a new image for myself. While researching different methods of weight loss I was particularly concerned about having extra skin because I wanted to lose about 80lbs. What I discovered was that if one loses weight by fasting (water only), there is no extra skin from the weight loss and that, while low calorie diets result in loss of 25% or more of weight loss through loss of muscle, in fasting the loss of muscle is less than 2% of lost weight (as long as you have not reached the point of starvation, after fat is gone).

My plan worked well for me. I lost 80 lbs in about 5 or 6 months by fasting for 4-10 days at a time, eating whatever I wanted when not fasting, but exercising regularly on non-fasting days. I got down to a size 6, had no extra skin, my skin condition went into remission, I had a lot of energy, perfect bloodwork and bill of health by my dr (who was amazed that I had no extra skin!), and gained a sense of self-mastery and control by practising the great control necessary to overcome the basic urge to feed oneself.

I regained most of the weight I lost while I was pregnant with Lily, eating far too much and having low energy from pregnancy made me sedentary... then, after she was born I kept up my somewhat sedentary lifestyle and intemperate eating and settled into a weight of about 180. I am not terribly unhappy about my body or weight now, though I know I am not as pretty as I could be, but I am bothered by my lack of energy and motivation, plus I am again plagued with the skin condition HS.

More than that, though, I have discovered a kind of emptiness inside. A part of myself that I have actively dismissed since the attacks of 9-11; the spiritual part of myself.

As I am building my new world and Life in California, I have finally gotten around to looking outside of my mind for ways to improve myself and increase my happiness. After the ugliness of 9-11 I had simply shut down my soul because I couldn't bear to contemplate the incongruence between a loving and merciful God and the ugliness of the world. I did not want to lose belief in a higher power, so I accepted that while I may not really believe, I could decide to believe anyway... and this was enough for the last 8 years.

Finally I am ready to contemplate my soul.

Today is the second day of my first spiritually focused no-calorie fast. Instead of focusing on the goal of looking good, I am focused on the goal of purification and personal transformation. I am using the sensations of hunger and other bodily feelings as a way to transcend the way I perceive my reality-- physical pain as a neutral sensation to be experienced, accepted, and overcome by the will of my mind. And I'm finding that if I look at my hunger, headaches, etc.. as sensations divorced from positive or negative meaning, they no longer hurt or cause me discomfort... they become fascinating evidence of my humanity, to analyse, to understand, and to appreciate for the meanings they can give.

Perhaps this understanding that negative sensations are only perceived as such because we believe them to be so is the first part of a path to true enlightenment (whatever that is). For in learning, understanding, and accepting this to be true, it is necessary to consider all of the other things that we believe to have a specific meaning in this life. If physical discomfort, nearly universally agreed to be a negative experience, to be avoided if possible, is subject to different interpretations and potentially transformed into a positive or neutral sensation by will of mind, then what about the less "objective" facts of life?

I have but one firm belief in life: Do not harm anyone. This used to be "do not harm others" but now includes myself as well. Even more, I think I am developing another belief which may become just as firm as that... The limits of human potential are bound only by time and natural law... in essence, we each have the potential to become anything we believe we shall be.

If we look at our limitations rationally, what justification exists for believing in them? History? Other's opinion and experience? fear? insecurity? tradition? experience?

In each of the justifications we might find a way to estimate the difficulty of overcoming the limitation we are considering, and perhaps the difficulty of overcoming is higher than the benefit of overcoming that limitation; then we can believe it is not worth trying to overcome but we cannot rationally say that it cannot be overcome at all. For example, if I believe I cannot quit smoking, my experience tells me that I have not been able to permanently quit, other's wisdom tells me that it is harder to quit than heroin and also that other's have done it, and I fear failure as well as missing the pleasure I get from smoking. I might rationally decide that I don't want to quit, but not that I CAN'T quit. Thus it is with the rest of our lives.

For the truth of the matter is that we, every day, choose to be the person we are. We have habits, patterns of thinking and acting, desires, needs, and wants. All of this, and our memories etc.. make us into the complex and unique people we are, but we are never "stuck" with ourselves. We can always choose to change who we are, to change our thoughts, patterns, habits, needs, and desires.

We can choose to follow the path we are used to, it is comfortable and we know what to expect from our lives, or we can choose to create a new path-- the path of being the best human being we can possibly be. That path is scary, though, because we do not know what is down that road... what if we discover we are not cabaple or competent enough to become the person we always dreamed of? Of all the failures in life, this might be the worst we could face. I believe, though, that it is not possible for any of us to honestly realize that failure... the person of our dreams is necessarily the person we can be, if only we chose to be them.

For our mental dreams, fantasies, and desires may be nothing more than the honest whispers of our truest self: the self that wants to be realized but can only become reality if we transcend our fears and insecurities.

For me, this fast is about preparing to earnestly follow the path to the Juliette of my inner fantasies. In gaining control of my physical reality, I also gain mastery of my inner reality. By overcoming the physical limitations of myself I can concentrate on and better see the transparency of those inner boundaries I have feared for so long.

I don't know if that is enlightenment, but I do know it is a joyous thing to think of.