[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.]
I’ve emerged enough to be able to type again. In the middle of the dark moment there, I muttered aloud, why am i doing this? Speaking aloud to yourself really helps. Or at least it helps me: I heard the question as though some else was asking. Why AM I doing this? Let’s check in with the intentions. I started this thing to connect with monastic practice, to experiment with what happens when you try on a monastic exercise and apply it, in a secular way, to creativity and art making. I have been fascinated by this fasting experience. I have made a lot more room in my life for meditation. I’ve been drawing too. The thing that’s the most noticeable about the drawing is how much I look at the paper before I sit down and my inner resistance is going off: what’s the point of drawing anything right now? you don’t have a really good idea. it’s not part of a larger practice. it’s going to wind up looking New Age.
But, following the idea that the point of PRACTICE is to just show up… I’ve been pressing myself to at least show up, even if the schedule is messed up and I only have 15 minutes. I remember my zillions of years as a synchronized swimmer, I remember how much it sucked when it was one of those Buffalo winters and I’m peeling off my layers of sweaters and mittens to place my already chilled toes on the frigid tiled locker room floor, to put on a swimsuit, of all things. I remember dragging myself to the edge of the pool and standing on deck, my arms wrapped around myself in some last hope of being warm. My dear friend Lura (and the best swimmer on the team) was always already in the water. How cold is it? “Doesn’t matter.” She’d call back, “It always warms up once you’re swimming. The worst part is standing there looking at it.” She was a wise woman even at 14.
When I was 9 and had just joined the Buffalo Swimkins synchronized swimming team, I was all skin and bones, with huge long hair that wouldn’t stay inside my cap. I was a terrible swimmer, what with no muscles. The water was cold, the coach was loud, and every night I arrived home, a shriveled shivering sliver of a girl. My dad would dry my hair, brushing it at the same time. He did it in a way that made my hair stay wet longer but I didn’t tell him, because I loved the tenderness of those moments. And I loved the hot air from the blower. One night, after I’d gotten yelled at by the coach a lot (I really was a terrible swimmer), I told Dad I wasn’t sure if I could do it. He said, “You can stop if you want, but you have to wait until the end of the season. For now, you made the commitment to the rest of the team that you’d be there. So truck on through and you don’t have to do it next year.” I think I might have said this to him every year. And every year before the season re-started, Mom and Dad would sit down with me and ask me if I wanted to swim this year. Every year I said yes. At some point, maybe when I was 15 or 16, everything changed. I came into my body. I got strong. I started choreographing my own routines. Synchro became my art form. I began to love it. I went on to compete all over the world (in Atlanta, Copenhagen, and Paris) I coached in Connecticut, New York, and California. Synchro was an enormous part of my life and it required a very long pushing through phase to arrive at a place where it actually felt good.
So I have this huge example (and lots of others) of the importance of pushing through. Of putting my head down and digging in and having it really, really pay off. The idea of PRACTICE, of showing up even when you don’t feel like it and standing there on the pool deck, the action of holding to your commitment that actually shapes you as much as the workout does. I find this fast to be a distilled highlighting of that lesson. That even if I don’t have a single new realization in the next 10 days, the fact of keeping to it will be the lesson. So it is with this same idea of practice that I am goading myself to show up at the page and to draw, even when the inner critic sounds like she’s got a megaphone.
So how can I talk about practice and discipline and pushing through the hard stuff and not talk about the fact that I am in the process of a divorce? *Sigh.* The days preceding the fast, when Charles and Molly and I were stepping down to no caffeine and then just raw foods and then just liquids… especially that just liquids day, it felt like the fast had already begun. I felt the hollowing out beginning and was swept with sadness. I found myself laying in bed, remembering what it was like to snuggle with Christopher, or thinking about the time that Christopher and I did the Master Cleanse together (and how totally un-spiritual our goals were), and just remembering his chuckle. I remember how he said my name every single time I walked in the room. With 100% glee. It is very hard to walk away from those beautiful memories and that beautiful tenderness. And yet, after the pushing through together for five years, it became clear to me (over and over, every time I went on meditation retreat) that this relationship wasn’t right for me. I love this man. He loves me. And still, it isn’t right. He disagrees, which makes the whole thing a lot more painful. I’m not sure what I want to say about it here. I am really strong and really stubborn. I can be very determined. So it is very hard for me to turn away from my marriage.
part 2: Day 13 of quitting smoking / Day 3 of beer fast
9:30pm – I feel like the earth under my feet is a twig, swaying and cracking in the breeze. I only hope that I’m a little closer to the center tomorrow. I feel so exhausted by this. I think its a kind of stress. I feel shaky and only mostly coherent. I don’t even know if my ramblings are coming out in English. I don’t exactly feel holy. I feel like I’ve got a big hole in me. Unwhole. There is so much of me that feels missing right now, and yet I do feel intensely sensitive, in all sorts of ways. I won’t say they’re good or bad. I just feel like I am far more easily moved than usual. I feel sad, delirious, ecstatic, confused, overwhelmed, giddy, needy, lonely, crowded, and effing hungry. I don’t really know if I can accurately say how much of my hunger is in my stomach compared to my mind.
Have I mentioned that I’m the chef at the Art Monastery during most of the year? Yeah. Food is important to me, whether I like it or not. Ok, I like it. A lot. I looooove eating. Smoking, too. There’s something about both of those acts that is just so wonderfully indulgent. It’s sustaining and yet its almost pure pleasure. Ah well. Keeping up with my other roles here is as hard as letting go of feeding everyone and myself. That includes all of my interior roles. All the things I do that I think define me, and that I’m working on to be a better me. To my credit, I have kept up with my work, though its twice as exhausting as usual. Betsy, too, has impressed me with her tireless drive. I don’t know how that woman does it. It always seems that no matter what she does, she feels great, and can keep on no matter how much she denies herself rest and sustenance.
There is one thing I have done, which I feel pretty good about. I’ve begun my discipline practice. This is one of many ways that I have taken the opportunity of being at the Art Monastery to engage myself in new (ancient?) and challenging (monastic?) ways. This whole beer fast is one, which I would NEVER have done otherwise. I have never done any kind of weird diet before (ok, I was vegetarian for 6 months once), let alone fasting. For some time, I have known that I needed to engage my creative discipline. By that, I mean that I feel the need to buckle down and refine my knowledge/skill-set in a concerted and conscientious way. I am beginning this process by beginning proper and meditative practice sessions on my trumpet, usually during everyone else’s lunch. I hope this practice can develop into stellar habits that could transform my performance and creative abilities. That’s part of what this whole thing is about: habits. I waited to quit smoking until I knew I would be here at the Art Monastery for a while, in order to create a new daily ritual, new habits. I’m on this fast for, among other reasons, the purpose of facing all of these food habits that feel so necessary, but that we’re proving aren’t quite so. I’m building in proper training, beginning with trumpet practice, to my daily life. I intend to continue, once I’m eating again, with a rigorous physical regimen. Somehow, that always feels like my body’s first desire, whenever I quit smoking. It says to me, “What the F have you been doing all this time?!?!? Go out and get fit!” It just feels good. Anyhow, it all starts with the thought, which turns into a word, then an action, and into a habit. Before you know it, you’ve built a life. Just hope that its one you really believe in.
Day 14 of quitting smoking (Day 4 of beer fast)
9am – I wake up from a really strange dream, that was something like an action movie. Like many dreams before, I get into some nightmare situation, but somehow overcome it, and come out just fine. I’ve been dreaming like crazy recently.
Anyhow, once I’m starting to feel consciousness slip back into me, I’m immediately thinking about the fast, my physical state, and food, glorious food. Last night I laid in bed for several hours feel horribly nauseated. That is now 2 nights of three that I’ve gone to bed feeling like death, not that this was nearly as bad as the migraine from days earlier. I hear that the first few days are the worst, much like giving anything up. I’m in food withdrawal. Oh man, I cannot wait to get over that hump.
I wonder about the beer we’re drinking. I know that these were just about the best of the options we had “easily” available to us, but I fear that they are not actually beefy enough to provide us the nutritional content we need, without having to drink so many that we get drunk. Reminder to the audience: nobody’s trying to get drunk here.
Well, maybe that’s a good lead in to speak towards what I AM doing here. I think I wrote earlier about this being one of the things that I would never have done, if I were still living my urban life. This is also one of few ways that I’ve found, so far, to connect directly with literal western monasticism. Another one of the reasons I had (that I am currently not so sure about) relates to the fact that the organization has taken on a multi-year cycle of themes. This year’s theme, Vigils, is really about death and the void, for us. It is being in that vacuous space of the unknowable. Anything could be there. Nothing could be there. Also, it is the living’s recognition of the transition into that place. I had the thought that we are basically mirroring that, as best we can, by emptying ourselves of that which normally keeps us alive. Betsy and I are in a different world from the rest of our team, and quite different world’s from each other, I imagine. I suppose I’m still an infant in the life of this fast, so I’ll not jump to any conclusion, but needless to say, I’m definitely not feeling like I’m past the withdrawal stages yet. Something in me is holding on to life with an iron grip. I wonder, too, if I feel lousy because I need food, or if its because of harsh things my body is processing to get rid of. Fun fact: I have not had any bowel movements since we started this thing. I wonder at what point I should do something about that. Well, time to have “breakfast” and get working. What shall it be? Maybe, a little Guinness (officially my favorite breakfast beer, so far) to settle my stomach, and a large jug of water to ease my headache.
10:30am – I was thinking a little more about what I said earlier this morning, regarding the analogy with death and the void. I wonder if there are more parallels to what I’m going through than I previously admitted. Not only do I feel like I am caving in, but I am somewhat afraid of what the next week and a half will bring, entering into the unknown emptiness. I’m less than 25% of the way in, and it has been ROUGH. Maybe, this is me, shot on the battlefield, knowing that death is taking me, but still stuck in the brutal reality of letting go. Well, here’s to what lies beyond.
4pm – Today has gotten a lot better. I feel alright. Although, the middle of each day has been ok. It’s those pesky mornings and nights. I’m just about to go on my daily walk, another part of my current practice, walking from the monastery to our house. It is an AMAZINGLY beautiful 2.5 miles, literally uphill both ways (ok, uphill AND downhill both ways). Each day so far, the minor bit of exercise has gotten me a little more buzzed, and has made everything glow. While I don’t think anything is actually more beautiful due to my fasting, the whole process I’m going through has gotten me to do this walking. Normally, I have trouble walking. I’d just as soon run and get it over with, but I’ve been really enjoying embracing the Italian countryside in full Spring bloom. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. It is obscenely beautiful. So, there’s that, which is nice.
11am – 12oz. Grimbergen (Double) 6.5%
1pm – 4oz. Paulaner (Weissbier) 5.5%
5pm – 11oz. Eggenberg Urbock 9.6%
8pm – 12oz. Grimbergen (Double) 6.5%
10pm – 11oz. Eggenberg Urbock 9.6%