[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.]
Today Liz and I took the train to Florence for a meeting with an excellent new friend of the Project, Doug Platt. He just happens to live in a former convent. It is a beautiful home with stunning grounds. It might have been the biggest challenge to the fast yet: sitting at the dinner table with Doug, Liz, and his three kids, while they ate what smelled like delicious arancini (traditional Roman fried rice balls stuffed with a variety of different things), ribs, green beans, porky somethingerothers, and salad. Luckily, I had a really good beer.
It feels like there are a lot of changes going on right now. Changes in me, in the people around me, in the Project, and in the world. I feel at the edge, the beginning of a new growth spurt, particularly for the Project, but also related to my own personal and spiritual growth. The beer fast is weird. Let’s face it. I’m a little bit buzzed a lot of the time. I can imagine how doing this same thing but with juices would yield that much more clarity. But still, the humor in it, the paradoxical nature of cleansing with intoxicant, of finding clarity through unfiltered cloudiness, I find this fascinating as an experiment all in itself.
One thing that is true about this fast: I feel permeable. It seems like if I spend a moment opening myself to anything, it will pierce me. The room we’re sleeping in, for example. Lovely arches, monastic cornices, impressive art collection. I took a moment to lay here on the foldout couch and appreciate the ceiling. Mesmerized by the lines, I feel held by the room, cradled. I feel energetically connected to the room, like I have expanded to meet it and it has reach down to encompass my body. I wonder what function this room had in the past lives of this building, if the nuns who spend time in this room embedded any messages in the bones of the structure, either consciously or unconsciously, and if I could receive them, either consciously or unconsciously. Or do the messages come from the architect? Or from the Architect?
Day 12 of quitting smoking (Day 2 of the beer fast)
Holy crap. Last night was the culmination of several days of building up the terrible feeling. It basically ended up that I got one of the worst migraines that I’ve ever had. I couldn’t feel anything but the blinding dark sharp-edged sledgehammer inside my head. A truly unfortunate other consequence of my migraines is that I usually become nauseated. Other than my head, I had mostly been feeling alright until then, but I was suddenly unsure of whether or not I would be able to keep down the few calories I had in me. I was writhing in my discomfort for quite some time until finally Liz and Molly helped me decide it was time to eat something. I felt equal parts relief at the thought of a possible end to the pain as I felt bad at the notion of giving up on the fast. Ultimately, it was weird to eat, but I immediately started feeling better, and I was ultimately able to get to sleep.
Now, I’m awake. I feel a bit uncertain as to where I’m at and what I want. I keep hearing a quote I heard recently: “Always we begin again.” Somewhat ironically, St. Benedict said that. So, what to do… I suppose I shall try another day, and see what happens. The fact that getting the beer, itself, may still prove to be a huge annoyance might help me make my final choice, but for now, I’m getting back on the horse. Fingers crossed. Beer I come.
1 beer in. Feel ok. At a clown workshop sharing session. Reflecting on the notion of tenacity. I’m really glad I’m trying again, though I seem to have released my attachment to doing this “right.” I feel really relieved by this. The other thing is that I have so many feelings about how all this is working along with the quitting smoking thing. Mostly, I think I’m proud of myself (and Molly) for doing this, and still doing this. This shit is hard. So many things about this are hard. I think about my father, who after 50 years of drinking and smoking, got lung cancer. When he/we found out, he quit his drinking and smoking. He was about 60 years old, and going through both of these kinds of withdrawal all at once. I don’t know if I’ve ever given him due credit for his success (I was definitely not brought in to the process at the time). The point is that after 60 years of living and all that entails, and giving up a life of alcoholism, quitting smoking was the single hardest thing he ever had to do.
So, its about 4pm. Somehow, I seem to have bounced back. I’m keeping my hopes high that this lack of terrible pain will last. I’m definitely hungry, but I feel strong enough to go on, for now. I’m struck by how crazy this must have been for the monks of old. I wonder if they had a step down process. Somehow, I doubt it. What did they do if someone was freaking out? Was it ok to “fail” the fast?
I’ve been thinking a lot, too, about my free time. This place always makes me think about my free time. There’s so little of it, usually, that it feels like this precious commodity that must be used only towards the best of ends. It has been especially difficult since quitting smoking, since any time that I’m not actively focused on something tends to lead to me thinking about having a smoke to think about what to do next or process what has just happened or simply muse on life and living. Anyhow, I’ve had a hard time deciding what to do with that spare time. I feel like I owe it to myself to be working working working on music. Do I or don’t I want to be building a repertoire of original songs and recordings? There are, however, many frustrating hurdles particular to being here that make it so difficult for me. I feel so conflicted, too, because I feel like much of what I call a hurdle is also what I would like to be calling inspiration, like isolation; from the rat race, my friend networks, from the perpetual whoosh of cars echoing off of San Francisco apartment buildings. There is something else here. There is focused thought. There are ideas of the heart, rather than ideas of my people’s city life. I guess I feel like I’ve become one who finds it so much easier to take inspiration from the grittiness of the city than the purity of piety, nature, and isolation.
Well, there is something about this fast that makes me feel somewhere in between. I feel like this is a place that I can connect to both worlds, and where both worlds connect to me. I am the emptiness. I am the void. I am pure. I am full of fermentation. I am hungry. I am full of hot and cold. I am in withdrawal, and I am proud of it.