‘This is the perfect time to fast…’
I’ve heard this sentence, again and again, repeated verbatim by numerous clients since most of the world went into lockdown earlier this year as a result of Covid 19. Now that many of us are slowly returning to a less restrictive regime in life, I thought this might be a good time to reflect on how lockdown has influenced people’s actual experience of water fasting.
In many ways it’s true: lockdown really is the perfect time to fast. In becoming socially distanced from one another, we’ve enjoyed an opportunity to become closer with ourself. Locked into our homes, locked away from the outside world, this has been an inherently inward-turning (yin) period for us all – as opposed to the more outgoing (yang) mood of everyday life. Since we’re not running around, out on the town any more, we’d may as well just stay at home and simply be.
Lockdown has forced us to slow down. Of course, fasting does the same. It too is also an inherently inward-turning occupation, with consciousness directed towards both the physical detox and healing taking place inside the body, as well as towards the deeper emotional and spiritual layers within our being. In short, the yin characteristics of the world under lockdown reflect and naturally support the yin elements of fasting.
Fasting at home instead of at the workplace
Beyond the general parallels between lockdown and fasting, lockdown has also brought specific benefits in terms of the logistics of fasting. For example, with most people working from home, there’s been little or no need to endure the stress of fasting at the workplace. If you’re feeling low on energy, you can just lie on the couch and get on with the day’s job: a much more comfortable solution than the average office desk and chair. I’ve even had several clients who have worked from bed most days. For many, lockdown has also brought a reduced workload and, with it, the chance to work more slowly, as the body permits. This leaves more energy for focussing on the fast – more than would ever have been possible under normal circumstances. For those who have been furloughed, fasting has even served as a substitute for a job: that is, a full-time occupation in itself. In the end, isn’t that how fasting should be?
Another benefit of fasting at home instead of the workplace is not having to tell your colleagues about your crazy plans. For some people, though, this has been a mixed blessing, because lockdown has consequently meant living in closer proximity with partners and family who may not be 100 percent supportive of water fasting. (Let’s be honest, for most people, the last person you want to tell about your water fast is your mother!) Whether parents, spouse or other, this has often put added pressure on relationships which are already stressed by living together under one roof, 24-7, for weeks on end.
Anxieties and distractions
Although lockdown has positively influenced many people’s experience of fasting, it hasn’t always turned out to be beneficial. Sometimes the emotional impact of lockdown has hit a little too close to home, intensifying anxieties which already lie at the heart of any water fast. For instance, many people find that they need distractions in order to survive the unrelenting ‘boredom’ of a water fast. Unfortunately, though, lockdown has severely restricted the spectrum of possible distractions normally available. Unless you’re happy with marathon sessions on Netflix, you’re pretty much stuck. You can’t go out and meet with friends. You can’t go out shopping. If you’re unlucky, you can’t even go out and spend a little time in nature. Everything is closed.
Without external distractions, there’s no choice except to turn inward. For many people, though, the introspective gravitational pull of a water fast already poses a challenge in itself. Combined with lockdown, it can become too much, uncovering parts of our personality which we’re not ready to face. The mirror is simply too clear. As if this weren’t enough, let’s not forget the whole reason we’ve been locked down: Covid 19. Lockdown has been a constant reminder of our human fragility and, ultimately, mortality. Water fasting is too.
For me, this is one of the fundamental reasons to practise water fasting. We feel the fragility of our human bodies, and, by surrendering to the fast, connect with a deeper part of our being. Or, to put it another way, by letting go of our usual attachment to finite, physical Self, we begin to taste the infinite within us.
A broader perspective
The same applies to all of lockdown. Similar to the beginning of a water fast, we have battled giving up everyday habits: little things taken for granted, like breathing fresh air outside or going for a walk. Furthermore, many people feel a deep resistance and resentment to the way that the democratic freedoms we normally enjoy have been swept aside. In some locations, rules have even been imposed which bear little relevance to the actual science of disease prevention. Whatever we feel about the political motives of lockdown, though, this whole situation invites us to explore where true freedom lies. Just as in a water fast, so long as we resist giving up our everyday habits, we will never find the true potential of who we are. We can either be prisoners on the outside, beholden to the limitations of a body suffering from detox – or, equally, to a world suffering in the throes of Covid 19. Or, alternatively, we can find freedom on the inside: a strength which is capable of transcending any crisis in the outside world. The choice is ours.
Ultimately, the whole experience of lockdown itself constitutes a kind of figurative ‘fast’ from modern consumer society. Understandably, this hasn’t been easy, in the same way that water fasting also poses a challenge for the vast majority of people. Perhaps, though, this is all for the best. For lockdown provides a new perspective on our often dysfunctional relationship with family, friends and colleagues, our job, our environment and, more generally, with all of Nature. Hopefully, it will also act as a global reset for the future – in precisely the same way that a water fast offers the possibility to heal from destructive old habits and addictions. The inconvenient truth is that, for a long time now, the trajectory of modern living has been unsustainable. Sometimes giving up our comfort zone is necessary to ensure future health and happiness.
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