[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.]
10 AM – When I was meditating yesterday day I felt this bubble of fury build up in me. A sphere of fiery red energy ballooned up and I was surrounded by anger, defensiveness, and fear. Could it be that as the fast proceeds and my body consumes the as-of-yet undigested burritos still stored in my intestines for God knows how long, that I would, on a parallel track, work through as-of-yet undigested emotions?
Today was hard. Sitting at dinner with everyone last night was hard. Sitting at breakfast with them this morning was hard. Sitting on the train back to Terni with Liz while she snacked. Doing the grocery shopping when we arrived back in Terni. By the time we arrived in Labro (the door-to-door trip was something like 6 hours), I was exhausted. I have only had one beer today, which I imagine is part of the problem. But I also feel more drunk today than yesterday. And I don’t feel like drinking any more beer. I find myself fantasizing about weird beverages like SuperFood. I sometime stand in awe of the weirdness of my inner workings.
I do see how one gets through these sorts of challenges. When I first walked into dinner at Doug’s, it smelled so good I almost got dizzy. I thought I might not be able to do it. I gripped the back of the chair. What if I cry? What if I get up and run away from the table? What if I scream and bury my face in that platter of arancini (in the meantime freaking out our excellent new friend and collaborator)? Something inside me shrugged and said, “Well, let’s see.” I pulled out the chair. I sat down at the table. I managed to not eat the little crumbs that fell on my napkin from the platter sitting directly to my right. The smell subsided. I passed the dishes when someone asked for one. I drank my beer so slowly I didn’t finish it until an hour after dinner ended. And slowly, but surely, I let go of concentrating on the food and let my attention be on the people. The dinner got easier and I survived.
6 PM – I feel like I want to crawl into a hole. Or my bed. I have not a single reflective thought in my brain right now. And I’m typing this while both Liz and Charles are on Skype calls with their family members on either side of head (Liz is in full-on laughter hysterics with her brother, Charles having a sweet moment with his mum, telling her he hasn’t smoked in 14 days). Still, I wish I had a cocoon to crawl into.
Oof. Weren’t the first three days supposed to be the hard ones? Why would Day 5 be the hardest? This is hands down the hardest day so far. I’m drinking a Chimay right now and I’m not particularly enjoying it. When does that ever happen? Chimay is the ultimate treat!
I think I’ve been consumed by that bubble of dismal feelings that came up when I was meditating.
Also, I got my period. I guess that’s not irrelevant.
9 PM – I got home and immediately flopped on the bed. I lay there, unmoving, listening to Charles and Kelsey (our first worktrader of the season!) prepare dinner. I lay there curled up wishing I could cry. It might help somehow, to wash out this feeling, but nothing came. Josie, the world’s best cat, sauntered over and meowed at me. I explained how I was feeling. She head butted me. I mustered the energy to sit up and dragged her onto my lap. She started purring so loudly that I had to smile. How could I not smile? But, also how could I smile from the middle of this dismal feeling? I buried my face in her, wishing that all those people who think I’m obsessed with her for no reason could experience this moment. I breathed into her fur, her purr drowning out my queasiness and exhaustion. A few minutes later she was over it and walked to the other side of the bed. I sat up and checked in with myself. I felt significantly better. Purring heals, I tell you. It heals.
Part 2 of Day 12 of Quitting Smoking
Its kind of shocking how much I feel all of these activities (or lack thereof) actually change my personality. Beyond being a little short of patience and whatnot (from all sorts of withdrawal), I am simply not interested in… well… a lot of things. I don’t really seem to care about what anyone else is doing. I don’t really seem to care about making new friends, even there there are bizarre and fascinating new people here who happen to be leaving tomorrow. I just don’t have it in me to care right now. There’s something about all of my social habits that has been stripped from me, making me wonder what all of my social habits are. I suppose, when people gather, they tend to consume together (unless they’re engaging in some sort of sport or something). They go out to eat. They sit at the cafe with espressos and cigarettes. They play cards while eating peanuts and sipping on something or other. Even when they go out dancing… always drinking. Consuming. Digesting. I have no judgement for this. I don’t look upon it as a negative element of consumerism (though there are many). Its just interesting to me that consumption is so connected to so much of social living.
Day 13 of Quitting Smoking (Day 3 of beer fast)
Well, its 7:30 in the morning. I’m not usually awake at this hour. I do seem to feel ok, physically speaking, but I am definitely not on the right side of the bed, if you know what I mean. I can’t say for sure that it has anything to do with the fast(s) I’m in, but it sure feels like its probably harder to deal with because of the lack of distraction and… food, cigarettes, and coffee. It’s weird to me that coffee is even on that list. It has never been a thing for me before. I’m not sure how much to blame on the fact that the coffee is just really good (and strong) here. The rest, though, I think has something to do with the isolation. Being so removed from so many of the typical joys that I used to have in the city, or even in less urban America, I find that the few little extra pleasures we have out here become that much more significant. There might be something to be said, too, for the fact that our home lives and work lives, states of rest and motion, are so interconnected that there really feels like no separation. To that end, it often feels like we’re working every hour that we’re awake. So, a little extra coffee to keep you going strong helps out.
Well, for whatever reason, I appear to have become, I think for the first time, truly addicted to coffee. I’m definitely not excited about that fact. I had thought that when I give up smoking, I’d be addiction free (at least for a while).
So, there’s the coffee thing. I guess I aught not rule out the ritual element of it. I think that is actually one of the hardest things about the whole fast experience, given our particular life out here. We have such a tightly knit (while ever-changing) community, based on our core team of 4 who live here almost year-round. We all have our own agendas through most of the day, but we always make each other coffee, we always eat our meals together, we always share those stories from the day that you might or might not have actually NEEDED to know, but make you feel like you know what the other person has gone through. We talk about life and art and the cosmos. We make stupid jokes. I guess this all goes back to rituals, social living, and food.
1pm – I’m not sure quite what tools to use to do this. I am having a really freaking hard time focusing on anything without being distracted by thoughts of eating, not to mention smoking. I suppose, in some ways, this might be a great distraction from quitting smoking. Food is occupying so much of my waking mind that tobacco doesn’t really have much space to torment me. To some degree, the fact that I’m steadily ingesting small amounts of alcohol may actually be helping me feel a bit more lighthearted about it all than I might otherwise be. Its so hard to say. I don’t feel like I’m on solid ground at all. Every part of my life pattern is so up in the air. I’m in a new house, working towards relatively new goals, living a completely new kind of moment-to-moment existence. The absence of all those things I usually consume has created more of a void in my mind and my schedule than it seems to have in my body. Once I got past the several day long migraine, I’ve been physically… ok. Not great. Maybe not even good, but not bad. Nothing hurts. I just feel incredibly unfocused and emotionally weak. Well, maybe weak isn’t actually the word. I feel like I don’t really have it in me to sugar coat anything. I feel like my “filter” is down. I’m even more rough than usual. Additionally, anything new that gets introduced to my world, my schedule… seems like a hassle.
I have strong mixed feelings about something that happened last night. It was the last night for some super great visitors we had (Cirque en Deroute), and we generally would have had a Gratitude Circle for them, except that we made a rule last year; that we only do Gratitude Circles for people who are here for more than 1 week. When Liz came to me to suggest we do one for the clowns, I reminded her of this rule, since I was not feeling like I was ready to pour out some gratitude. I feel like that was a selfish moment for me, brought on by this emptiness and excuse for weakness, yet I also feel like I have recently been trying to stand for our agreements. Ever since we took vows earlier this year (Gratitude, Resourcefulness, and Fidelity), I feel that I’ve had a new perspective on community and personal agreements. For better or for worse, I’m trying to stand for them, so that we actually have a chance to see if they work. I suppose that’s also part of why I’m trying this fast, to see if it “works.” So far… well… I just don’t know. I guess I’m writing. That’s pretty new for me. I don’t do this. I am also beginning my discipline practice (properly practicing trumpet – for the 1st time ever). I don’t know. Its so hard to separate the parts of the fast that I’m struggling with from the quitting smoking. All of it is stressing me out and making me feel much more fragile than usual. At least half of my normal coping mechanisms have been stripped away, leaving this raw, frustrated, doubtful, yet cautiously optimistic, minstrel walking on empty roads, gazing upon green monoliths, singing to nobody, and wondering why.