21 day water fast: Day 22 (follow up)

Disobedient dog running and dragging a man by the leashI slept five whole hours last night – and all in a single stretch!

This is my big news.  Five hours in a single stretch: literally the first time for more than two weeks.  I know the natural assumption is that it must feel like a relief, but, honestly, it’s not that simple… Of course, there’s always the relief of slipping back into a familiar old habit – and for me, five hours in one stretch is the norm, since I normally rise to meditate after this.  But it’s also much more complicated.  Once my biorhythm had accepted and acclimatised to the fasting routine of sleeping two hours and then rising, there was a certain beauty in sitting to meditate in the dead of night instead of the pre-dawn hours, there was a certain peace in sitting afterwards to write, with the silence of the night allowing my mind to express itself in an effortless, uninterrupted flow.  It was good.  Just different.

The changes to sleep and how I feel about them symbolise more generally the way that things have evolved over the last 24 hours.  Physically, when I returned home and stepped out of the car, I immediately felt the strange, quirky weakness in my legs again.  Having sat for so long in the car, they actually felt even weaker and less under control.  Carrying my overloaded toolbox and one of the 20-litre water flasks, still nearly full, back into the flat, my body felt overly taxed, just like it had done every occasion over the previous three weeks when I had asked it to perform any physical duty.  By the evening, though, things had continued to evolve.  We took the dog out for a little walk.  I asked Réka to hold the leash, because I didn’t have the energy to deal with the dog yanking on it.  Otherwise, I felt fine: still slow, but no longer as slow as while fasting.  The jitteriness in my legs had dissolved, and the idea of walking no longer provoked physical and psychological resistance.  Although only a kilometre, it was nevertheless the most distance I had covered in one stretch since my five kilometre walk on Day Four.

This morning, my legs were feeling stronger.  Walking felt normal and at my usual tempo again.  I was fine with the idea of taking the dog out for a walk in the afternoon – even knowing that she’d be pulling at the leash with her usual enthusiasm.  When I did take her out a few hours later, I enjoyed spending the time with her.  It was good to walk through the parks with a rounded fasting consciousness still expanded around me.  It felt good to walk, to move at a totally normal pace for well over an hour.  The only hint that I had just finished fasting was in feeling slightly out of breath while climbing the long sets of stairs up to the castle, close to where we live.  Even though I’m not going to bring it to the test by trying to go for a run any time soon, I think I’ve more or less landed.  Although I’ve felt ambivalent in so many respects about giving up the fast, this is the one area – along with the low blood pressure – where there won’t be any regrets!

Now it’s time to list everything I ate in the first 24 hours after having broken the fast:

6 oranges (whole), 3 bananas (mixed with rice milk as smoothies), a handful of cashew nuts (always only five nuts at a time and extremely thoroughly chewed), a handful of almonds (likewise only five nuts at a time), 4 tomatoes with rocket and baby-leaf salad (mixed into two salads with olive oil and balsamic vinegar), a handful of olives, a few tablespoons worth of a lentil paté (again, just a minimal quantity to help wake up the digestive system).***

One thing which is very much not on my ‘wish-list’ is water!  I often find this to be the case after finishing a fast.  It may be, in part, that I’ve simply had enough of all that drinking, but I think it probably has more to do with my body’s demand that whatever goes into it should be packed with nutrition.  So the idea of oranges or other juicy fruits, as well as juicy, fresh vegetables feels highly attractively.

The other thing which, as always, I avoid at this point after a fast is any kind of flour-based product.  It’s too sticky and slows down peristalsis at a time when I need it to accelerate.  Also, right now, my body is highly sensitive to the quality of food.  It craves live, whole foods.  Flour-based products like bread and pasta feel ‘dead’, about as alive and nutritious as if I were eating cardboard.

All in all, I ate a fairly substantial quantity today: frequently, but always in small quantities.  None of it was devoured with particular gusto – in fact, I hardly had an ‘appetite’ at all.  But a deeper, inner voice, was commanding me to eat.  At the same time, my body wasn’t averse to eating either, and my stomach had no problem digesting or passing the food on into the intestines, where I can feel my body wants to draw out every last possible gram of nutrition.

I have to confess that I’m writing this now ‘under the influence’.  No, not alcohol, but I did have a small morning coffee – which, of course, you won’t find under the list of recommended foodstuffs following a fast!  Why ‘sin’ like this?  Well, I love the subtle effect coffee usually has on my consciousness, opening and expanding it.  I’m sure it’s no coincidence that cappuccinos are named after the monastic order by the same name, and who have used coffee as a meditative tool for centuries… Anyway, this got me thinking about the similarities between caffeine-induced ‘highs’ and the natural state of consciousness while deep fasting.  Yes, they are similar, but especially now – in the immediate wake of such a long fast, following such a drawn-out singularity of time and being – I became acutely aware of the differences between the two.  As much as a simple morning coffee has often inspired me into effortless writing, into an effortless and uninhibited flow of creativity, it nevertheless feels now like a poor substitute for the real thing: the natural state of being which opens up and extends through the healing metabolism of a deep fast.  As much as under everyday circumstances I never even notice it, the heightened sense of openness and being now feels relatively jittery, even fragile: the mental equivalent of the physical feeling coursing through my legs yesterday.

In bidding farewell to this fast, I know I must also accept that my natural state of being is going to return to something less expansive.  That’s okay, all of life is a game of give and take.  The important thing is that there is give and take in the first place.  Without it, there’s no chance for perspective.  With it, we gain the ability to be aware and integrate our experiences.  And in the end, isn’t that why we’re here?

(Next post: the one-week follow-up.)

*** Reading this now, with the benefit of added experience, there’s no way I would break a 21-day water fast with so many fruits!  Again, I had my reasons for wanting to boost energy as soon as possible, but this can be dangerous and lead to refeeding syndrome.  Instead, I’d aim to consume a total of 250-300 calories on the first day of refeeding, gradually increasing this by 150-200 calories over the next couple of days.  After the first few days of refeeding, the danger of refeeding syndrome declines, and it becomes safer to accelerate the refeeding process.

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