I began with my own ceremony. I fasted all day on Ash Wednesday (as I do every Wednesday). I entered the house after the five hour drive back from work and put on the soundtrack to The Last Temptation of Christ by Peter Gabriel, which, as well as setting the mood is just a corker of an album. I lit candles, burned incense and had a ritual bath. After I underwent a brief personal ritual, I took some of my personal anointing oil and with ash from my frankincense burner gave myself an ashen cross.
In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.King James Bible, Gen 3:19.
I awoke the next morning very hungry. No great surprise there, but I do not just mean the expected rumbling of my stomach. I mean hungry for everything: driven. Like every new task I undertook was energised by the very ‘newness’ of it. I had already began a heavy regime of Yoga and daily meditation (vipassana for 55 minutes) about four months ago, so this would be continued throughout. I have thrown performing a quick Sign of the Cross at the end of my usual devotions and protestations for good measure. I thought I would give myself a light, clean but suitably rewarding dinner come sundown to close out my 48-hour water fast that initiated proceedings. Some pea soup, dry rye bread, a handful of raw nuts and small portion of fruit. I utterly destroyed myself. I couldn’t move initially. By 11.30pm I was still bloated like I had eaten a massive Sunday roast. I realised very quickly I was going to have to adapt to far less food.
As the fast continued I adapted rapidly and felt no particularly bad withdrawal symptoms (from sugar, processed food and such). I have stuck rigidly to the rules all except for one small bit of leeway. My Granny’s 90th birthday celebrations. I sat at the party full of friends and family, wondering if I should be polite and eat something along with everyone else, because it is was such a special occasion and I was due to eat in just one more hour—when the sun went down. It seemed perhaps to be an unnecessary strictness to not eat a fraction earlier this once. Though I am extremely strict with myself when it comes to these kinds of matters, I am willing to reconsider when it would cause negative consequences to others. As I pondered this, the host of the party came out with a plate and stated loudly, “we made this vegan food for you”. So I accepted the plate gratefully and ate a tiny bit early on this one occasion.
My first Sunday, I completely forgot that I could eat whenever I wanted. I have resolved to keep up all the restrictions, but allow extra meals on a Sunday should I wish them (once again slightly more strict on myself than necessary but I am happy with this rule). About 2pm I suddenly realised that it was Sunday, and that I need not fast today. So, excitedly, I had a tiny bit of leftover Irish Stew. Nothing like a full serving even. A micro-servicing. And I ate it up with two very small slices of bread. My stomach two hours later still felt bloated and sore. I also treated myself to some dates, cashews and raisins for dessert. It’s funny how such simple fare can become an amazing treat when your diet is restricted and added sugar is not an option.
My meditating had become more deep and focused and although I felt hunger and a slight physical weakness at all times, I was energised, physically and mentally. Fasting really does wonders for me and my wellbeing.
Fasting, while fasting: a step too far
As the next Wednesday arrived—my usual water fasting day—the plan was to do as I usually do. I was full of energy and enthusiasm all day. Upbeat, happy, focused. Really high-spirited. On the long drive home I was delighted to see not just one group of wild deer, but two (although that was along with countless dead birds at the road site, sadly). As I arrived home, I began to realise that I had not considered the full implications of maintaining my Wednesday fast as well as undergoing the Black Fast. Usually, this ends up being a water fast for a day and a bit, depending when my last meal is and when I break my fast, but given that I was having only one meal a day if I fasted for one whole day, the total fast would be 48 hours (from Tuesday evening until Thursday evening). I got in the door and stripped for a bath, started running it and weighed myself: a stunning 8.5 lbs dropped this week. I was a little shocked. I know it will be mostly water-weight, but it was truly surprising nonetheless. I got into the bath and felt a little uncomfortable with the whole realisation as to the extremeness of what I was proposing. I fast on Wednesdays, so that I have a general fasting practice. The Black Fast is in and of itself already a serious fast. If I did both, I would be fasting two days out of every seven inside what is already a hugely restrictive fast. It seemed over the top. I had to last six whole weeks. I also want to connect with my Christian mystic ancestry (and heal the trauma of my abusive Roman Catholic upbringing/social programming) and my additional fasting was not in line wth very the strictest of their practices. Surely I should at least complete a standard Black Fast (in its most extreme form I might add) before I add extra fasting on top of it. So I sat in my bath thinking: “the additional weekly water fast is too much if you want to sustain this, and, also, why be more severe than the most extreme form of Catholic fasting? I may have a small snack tonight and just keep it OG.” So about 10pm I did have a very tiny bowl of muesli and felt good for it. Then I lit candles, sat, and mediated. It was an odd sit. My body was rigid and deeply committed to the sit, but my mind was highly active and whizzing, this hyperactive mind has persisted.
Not the only thing I have given up
The following day I felt slightly strange emotionally. Still high-energy, and driven, but also slightly melancholic and down on myself. Like perhaps some part of my subconscious was cross that I had made it too ‘easy’ (at the end of week two only, I can confirm it certainly is not too easy). The stand out thing from that day though relates to something else. In my long list of restrictions for this fast, I had elected not to mention that because I am single at present and it seemed in keeping with the spirit of the fast, I have decided (for now at least) to remain completely celibate also. I have done this before at meditation retreats, but never for this long. It has come with problems and benefits. Increased energy; increased mental distraction. Another valuable experience though—and definitely one which I am sure many of my ancestors subjected themselves to as well.
One thing that stands out particularly, is how hard it is to fast when you have to prepare food for a little one. That includes my famous cinema nights; making her hotdogs and feeding her sweets. The real killer is when you get a little tiny bit of food on your finger, by accident, and every part of your body screams out to lick it! Just a tiny lick. It barely counts as anything, right? Forcing myself to march over to the sink and wash it off is intense. All the willpower required. But I have sustained. And, in short, I am so far very happy with this experience. It’s hindered me in no way, and it is only helping. It’s certainly helping my Yoga! I am excited to end and another four weeks seems a long way to go—one of those being a ramping up of the fasting, of course, but at this moment, I am already thinking about how certain I am that I will do this again. And honestly, I would highly recommend it.
Forget your three-day juice fast to ‘detox’. If you want to hit the reset button on your whole system, a Black Fast through lent is an incredible powerful mental, physical and spiritio-religious tool. So far, so good.