My 36 hours of fasting hell.

A complete fast is a complete and literal denial of self. It is the truest prayer.  ~Ghandi

Up until a couple of weeks ago, I had never fasted in my life. I know that some people use fasting as a way to seek or achieve spiritual enlightenment, but it’s just something I haven’t needed to do.

For me, at least during the past few years, I’ve been able to fall into the spiritual “zone” pretty easily, through breathing, light meditation and some quiet introspection.

So when I found out I had to fast for a 36-hour period prior to a medical exam, I welcomed it. “Bring on the hunger pangs!” I thought, “I’m ready to turn them into spiritual enlightenment.”

A genuine fast cleanses the body, mind and soul. It crucifies the flesh and to that extent sets the soul free.  ~Ghandi

By 11:30am on the first and only full day of my fast, I couldn’t think about much of anything spiritual. My every thought was of food. Each time I tried to center myself and find the quiet place within, my stomach would step up the whining, asking, no demanding, where is my breakfast?

Earlier in the day I had indulged and treated myself to a cup of coffee, but that was not good enough for my stomach. It wanted a fresh blueberry muffin or better yet, a cheddar cheese, spinach and tomato omelet with home fries and rye toast.

My wife accused me of being a wimp. “Yes, I agree, I’m a wimp.” I responded. Though in my head it was followed up with “now leave me the f*** alone.” You see, not content on being an ordinary wimp, I was a cranky wimp.

As the day got older, it only got worse. It was a Sunday, a big snacking day in our house and I was watching football. I cheated again and had a light beer. It beat the flavored seltzer I had been drinking, but without my normal snack of roasted peanuts or salty pretzels to accompany it, it was like an ocean without the waves. Something just wasn’t right.

What the eyes are for the outer world, fasts are for the inner. ~Ghandi

By the next morning, after a restless night, I felt dull and dim-witted. Sure, the hunger pangs were diminished. But what remained was a cavernous hole in my center and if I listened closely I could hear it talking. Fill me, it cried. Fill me now!

I tried to get a little spiritual nourishment by re-reading a chapter of Robert Collier’s classic Secret of the Ages, but this morning the words were flat and uninspiring. Who cares about the “hidden power available to us all” if it’s not going to give me something to eat.

By 1pm that day, it was all over. The doctor’s exam was complete and I was feasting on the aforementioned omelet, potatoes and rye toast. I was again centered and happy and tuned back in to the people around me. All was right with the world.

I suppose I just find spiritual enlightenment easier on a full stomach.

This story originally appeared October 29, 2010, in the Elephant Journal.

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