[Fasts have long been a part of contemplative tradition. Monastics abstain from food to achieve greater clarity, embodiment, and spiritual vision. They change your physical reality, which in turn affects your emotional and spiritual realities. Indeed, the whole reason we do them is to bring about personal transformation. This series of blog posts—”Beer Fast”—documents the experiences of a pair of Artmonks as they undergo one western monastic fasting practice: consuming nothing but beer and water. With that in mind, these entries are raw, containing a higher-than-usual dose of intimate reflections.]
In the last few days I have had three different people say to me,
“Betsy, I’m worried about you. I think you should be drinking more beer.”
“Are you drinking enough beer?”
“Can I bring you another beer? Shouldn’t you be drinking more?”
I will savor those moments for as long as I can remember them. Unfortunately, alcohol consumption hinders the formation of memory cells.
Heh heh. No, I’m not getting so drunk that I’m blacking out and suffering memory loss. I am also, rest assured worriers, drinking more beer. Yesterday I drank three whole Guinnesses. And sure enough, I feel great this morning. The first few days of the fast, when I was drinking four beers per day, I was definitely tipsy. Then, as my consumption waned and my water consumption increased, I was much more sober. But I was also hungrier. So maybe three beers a day is the happy medium. We’ll give it a go, with just three days left. Take me home, Guinness!
The experimentation with being around food, and even actively smelling it, has yielded a bit of a breakthrough. Wednesday was one worktrader’s last night (and another’s first night), so as is traditional at the Art Monastery, we did a Gratitude Circle. [Originally called Gratitude Fishbowl, the practice is that on the visitor’s last night at dinner there is an opportunity for everyone else at the table to appreciate something about that person. The recipient of the gratitude isn’t allowed to respond. Generally, everyone at the table will say something, thought that’s not required. This process can often become quite intense for the recipient.] I wanted to be there, especially since it was the first Gratitude Circle of 2012. So I was hanging around with the gang while Charles passed out various types of bruschetta [by the way, it’s pronounced “broo-sketta”]. I noticed my body tensing, as though I need to protect myself from some sort of attack. In the spirit of experimentation (with a dash of masochism?), I asked Liz if I could smell hers. She obliged. It was a green olive tapenade of sorts and instead of face planting into treat, I was instead perplexed by the complexity of the scent and the fact that it didn’t trigger my salivary glands at all. I felt my shoulders relax another level. The second round was tomatoes: il mio preferito. Bringing my nose in close, I took a deep inhale. It smelled great and my newfound improved sense of smell revealed that it’s still a little early in the season for tomatoes. I took the scent in and let the aroma nourish me. My shoulders relaxed further. Fascinating.
I think that is a shift in my consciousness that this fast has offered me. Of course it’s been something that I’ve been sidling up to for a long time, but this has been a really concrete, visceral experience that has driven the point home. This brings to mind some excellent writing about fear by David Richo in How to be an Adult. He explains that you are going to be afraid of whatever it is that you’re afraid of until you go through it. And being afraid is the thing that makes people pause and procrastinate and avoid doing that thing. Ironically, the pausing and procrastinating and avoiding, prolong the situation and you wind up experiencing that uncomfortable state of fear much longer. The fear perpetuates itself. So who’s in charge here? You or your fear?
The other night in meditation I got into a vast dark space. An abyss. A void. I began to feel unstable. I sensed unfriendly presences. My mind began to grab around for something to hold on to. And then I remembered a beautiful moment with my dear friend Lux in San Francisco in 2007. It was just days before I was moving to Italy, embarking on this crazy Art Monastery Project idea for real. We planned to spend the day together, a sort of one-on-one going away party. She took me to Sibley Regional Park in Oakland. I had never been there and it was jawdroppingly beautiful. We scrambled around on the rocks, talking. At one point we were standing on two boulders right near each other, looking out over the expanse, with San Francisco shimmering in the distance like some mystical fairy tale city. I was talking about my fears, wondering what the heck I was doing by moving to a country where I didn’t speak the language, to start an incredibly ambitious project without relevant experience or funding to do so. “I feel like I’m stepping into an abyss of darkness. I have to stick my foot out over the edge and just step. And hope that the earth rises up to meet me.” I was trembling with fear. Lux was silent. I turned to look at her, was she even listening? She was looking at me intently. Solemnly listening. We regarded each other for a moment and then slowly, she assumed an odd posture, sticking her rear out. She wagged her tail. I laughed so hard I almost fell off my boulder. I’ve thought of that moment often in times of confusion and fear. Why not wag your tail at the abyss? Sure, there’s tons to fear, but why not imagine the possibility of the wonders? Being excited and activating your sense of adventure doesn’t dishonor or ignore your fear. The idea is not to be fearless. The idea is to keep your fear with you and be brave at the same time.
Going through it, folks. Let’s be brave together. Activate your inner tail wag.