[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.]
Wow. I’ve gone a week without ingesting any food. I told that to my friend Francesca’s goddaughter. She blinked and said, “How come you’re not dead?” And there we are, back at the point. There is a lot about this fast that is about death. About showing me and my body that I can face things like hunger, discipline, and letting go.
Last night during my Vigils midnight sit, I tried out a death meditation. After a moment of settling in, I started with a vipassana-style body scan, paying attention only to my skin and the specific sensations that I could notice on each square inch of my body.
When the route from the tip of my head to tip of pinky toe was complete, I began again, this time following the same path but tuning into the muscle. The muscle round really brought up Reggie Ray for me and his wonderful lessons about how all you have to do is bring your awareness into the tension in your body and your body (muscle, tendon, organ, whatever), will suddenly find this tension unacceptable and release it. So there’s a real gentleness in just bringing your attention to each part of your body, patiently, and seeing what’s there and letting it do whatever it’s going to do. Which probably is to release the tension.
And the final phase was the real doozy. I began again from the top of my head, this time tuning into my skeleton. One bone at a time. At this point I was already deep into the meditation. I had really taken my time with the first two rounds, so my body was buzzing with aliveness. I could feel the heat and energy and whatever other waves a human body emits radiating multiple inches from the surface of my skin. I was in it. So bringing my attention to my skeleton, and this was particularly powerful with my skull, was a shimmering paradox. Are you sitting down? There is the practically universal symbol for death, the skull, inside me, right now. (And inside you, by the way.) I have a skeleton that looks like the specimens in morgues and more or less like the epitaphs I photographed in the church in Labro. This skull is what will remain (if I don’t go the cremation route), long after my skin and muscles have offered themselves to the great mulch of the world. Inside this vibrating radiating living body is death. Silent. Still. Waiting.
I read somewhere that the definition of death is something that ceases to transform. We, and the world, are in constant flux. To want a sort of stasis from our lives (some might call that stability), is to want death.
On some level, the fear of death is in everything. Avoiding death seems to be at the foundation of a lot of what we do and the choices we make every day. So much of our conflict and personal weirdnesses are a byproduct of our egos doing whatever they can to stay alive, to keep the grip they have over our conscious minds, and therefore our lives. The idea “I’ve got to prove my point!” comes from the ego, because if the ego is wrong, it dies a little death. And what happens to You? The You that is bigger than your ego? The You that every once in a while witnesses you going off on some diatribe, or getting swallowed up in some emotion, or operating in habit or reaction. That You, that awareness that sits behind or above or underneath, that deeper consciousness that isn’t so emotional, that isn’t caught up in the details, that You is the source of real connection with any other living being. That You is the source of a lot of good stuff. That’s my suspicion anyway.
I get the feeling that enlightenment is somewhere in there. And I get the feeling that the path to enlightenment is to slowly and steadily spend more time with that You. And I get the feeling that in order to spend more time with that You, the ego must suffer hundreds if not thousands of small deaths.
So maybe I will experiment (I’m not making any promises) with not avoided scents that come from the kitchen this week. When the rest of the gang is eating meals, I’ve been closing my bedroom door to seal out the coffee, the pasta, the peanuts, the curry, the oranges. Throughout my life my sense of smell has been pretty dull. I’m the last person to notice when something has gone bad or someone farted. But this week, well, it makes sense that my body would be putting more energy toward survivalist skills. Like my stomach calling up to my nose to say, “Would you get her attention, please?” and then my nose saying, “You realize that is edible right? You see that? You smell that? You could ingest that.” Yeah, thanks guys. I get it. Hang on for another week.
I’ve been starting to think about what I will eat when I finish the fast. The idea is to step out in the reverse order of how we stepped in. So my first day ingesting food will be all liquids. No salt, no caffeine. I can imagine that I won’t want any beer. I might not want beer for a really long time.
This experience does make me really curious about juice fasting. Also not for a long time, but maybe next year… It doesn’t have the same humor to it (juice fast? everybody does those! BORING!), but I can see how the health benefits would faaaaar exceed those of the beerfest — fAst, i mean! Beer fast.
Day 17 (of quitting smoking) – Would have been Day 7 of the fast