Life in the fast lane
You know how when you’re about to face the music — an exam, a job interview, a performance — you get butterflies in the stomach, metaphorically speaking? You’re filled with apprehension. Will I give a good enough account of myself or will I blow it? Am I even capable of passing the exam or getting the job or singing that song?
That’s how I feel every year on March 1, because the next day is when Baha’is everywhere start their annual 19-day fast. Every year I have serious doubts about whether I will rise to the occasion, but once the fast starts I always seem to slot into the no-food-or-drink-between-sunrise-and-sunset routine and find that the fast is not as intimidating as it sounds.
Mind you, it takes a couple of days or so for me to adjust, mentally and physically. It is challenging at first not to have that morning coffee and to go through the lunch period with the smell of food wafting seductively through the air. I probably didn’t help myself on the first day when, feeling full of energy and needing to escape the heat, I went for a 1km swim after breakfast. It was so beautiful in the sea . . . but I paid for it by hitting the wall in the middle of the afternoon.
Fasting, however, is not just a physical challenge. I find that these 19 days always focus me more than any other time on spiritual life. As ‘Abdu’l-Baha, son of the Faith’s founder Baha’u’llah, put it: "Fasting is the supreme remedy and the most great healing for the disease of self and passion."
Like so many of us, I suffer from self-importance, self-gratification and self-preoccupation. I indulge to excess in food and drink, TV and the internet, and buying stuff. Fasting stops a lot of that and instead focuses the mind on spiritual questions like how we are nothing without God and puts our spiritual journey — indeed our whole existence — into perspective. It is a time for inner reflection and meditation, away from the day-to-day frenzy of contemporary Western life.
Fasting, I hasten to add, is not exclusive to this Faith because all the major religions practise some form of it. Baha’u’llah explains why religion attaches so much importance to it by telling us that fasting and prayer “constitute the two pillars that sustain the revealed Law of God” and enable us to “draw nigh unto God”.
As ‘Abdu’l-Baha says, not just of the fast but of life in general: “The first thing to do is to acquire a thirst for spirituality, then live the life! Live the life! Live the life! The way to acquire this thirst is to meditate upon the future life.”
These are 19 particularly thirsty days.