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Many different faiths use fasting to cultivate mental discipline, clear space in their days for prayer, and show devotion to God.
These days, fasting is also often talked about in a more clinical sense by medical professionals and wellness devotees, who praise it for its bodily benefits.
I made the decision to embark on an intermittent fasting experiment for the latter—I’d been having persistent bloating for a week that was incredibly uncomfortable and making me desperate for reprieve.
In spite of being a spiritual person, because I was coming at it from this physical angle, I didn’t think I’d be presented with much of a challenge. I don’t get cravings for specific foods, and, more than that, I had incentive. I didn’t want to be in pain anymore.
Knowing having an early dinner has historically been helpful for me (and many others) when it comes to improving digestion, I thought simply, “Great, I’ll just intermittent fast for a while until the inflammation goes down.”
Only, it wasn’t so easy. Not because of food. But because of the removal of the ritual of a bedtime snack. This sounds a bit funny, because it doesn’t sound like a big deal at all. Just skip the snack, and move on. Right?
Er, maybe not.
Because the attachment isn’t so superficial. I should have seen this coming. Had it just been about the food, it’s likely I would have made a change earlier. But I was attached to the ritual. The comfort of a little “something-something” at the end of the day.
On reflection, bedtime snacks have been a part of my life since I was a kid. And they have always felt like a hug before dozing off—a metaphorical hug I’ve cherished even in the presence of physical hugs from family or friends or partners.
When I removed this comfort, what I missed went beyond simple self-indulgence. I missed this moment to myself when I felt warm and calm, when my mind was completely at rest.
Like so many women, I find it hard to do nothing. Which is why I’m perpetually writing about it—we really do teach best what we most need to learn.
I feel more comfortable reading, writing, tidying up the home, cooking dinner, cleaning the dishes—really, I feel more comfortable doing anything. I am the caretaker in our home, and I both genuinely love it and use that love to avoid sitting down and being still.
And yet, what my body has been trying to convey to me for years is that it desperately wants stillness. It needs it. And it’s used the vehicle of a bedtime snack to weave stillness into my daily life.
This entire experiment with intermittent fasting was intended, as mentioned, to bring about greater physical well-being, and yet it brought about this deeper understanding of my emotional and spiritual needs.
It brought me closer to my truth. Which may be the spiritualist’s equivalent to the religious set’s coming closer to God.
In the absence of food, we are without one of the primary tools for dulling our senses and checking out of our bodies. Too, in the absence of food, we are granted more time in our days—time we can choose to devote to reflective practices, like the traditional art of prayer, or journaling, or meditating, or what have you.
What I’ve been able to extrapolate beyond this personal need for stillness is the greater philosophical lesson that the solutions to our problems are often made available to us when we dare to subtract. When we commit to doing less.
We like to tell ourselves that we need to do more—learn more, buy more, evolve more, in order to lead better lives. And likely that’s due to the fact that most people feel more comfortable, as I do, swimming upstream. Because this is how we’ve been raised. And we always unconsciously seek out the familiar over anything else because this is the path of least resistance for our minds.
So, to consider operating differently and letting go, to consider cutting things out in order to invite in more of what we want, well, it feels wrong—to our minds.
It takes getting back into our bodies to hear the truth of what is in our best interest. Our bodies are our greatest guides. They hold ancient wisdom. And the beauty is that this is readily available to us whenever we choose to tune in.
The next time you don’t know what to do, consider pausing and doing nothing at all. Invite in stillness. Breathe into the void without expecting answers. Just be.
And if you notice discomfort, be that bodily or emotionally, tune in. Rather than get irritated, take this as an opportunity to get curious. What could your body or emotions be trying to tell you?
You will get answers when you are truly committed to putting yourself first and listening in. And, beyond that, it takes absorbing the wisdom you receive and letting it guide you forward.
If you too find it challenging to cull space for stillness or put yourself first, try to remember that the idea of putting on your oxygen mask first is not just a pithy quote. There is deep truth embedded here. If you run yourself ragged, one thing is for certain: you will burn out and be unable to be of service to anyone.
So, take care of you. When your mind tells you to do anything else, when it feels too hard, soften. Sink into the discomfort.
Trust that it’ll get easier—that the only reason it is so seemingly tough is because there is energy there, energy that can and will dissolve over time, as you commit to nourishing your body, mind, and soul.