Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The fast: Day 1

[I thought I’d mix things up for the next few days and “twitterize” this blog by giving several updates throughout the day on how I’m progressing with the fast. Instead of making many mini entries, I will just continually add to each day’s post.]

“When you have gone so far that you can’t manage one more step, then you have gone just half the distance that you are capable of” –Greenland Proverb

Time: 11:30 pm. (Hour 3 of 72)
Hunger level: 0 (I will grade my hunger based on a 1-10 scale. “1” indicates mild, painless hunger. A score of “5” indicates that I am suffering from substantial and painful hunger pangs. A score of “10” means that David’s calves are making my mouth water.)

The last supper: Sautéed zucchini and tomato, oven-baked taters with ketchup, two warm homemade biscuits with a square of butter jammed inside, and three scrambled eggs (donated by four of the prettiest darn chickens Stokes County’s ever seen). For dessert, I added two more biscuits and drizzled—no—smothered them with the gooey strawberry preserves David and I made last month.

This past evening, at 8:09 pm, I began the first fast of my life. Twenty-three minutes later, at 8:32 pm, I accidently finished the half-ounce of wine that had settled into the bottom of my glass during post-meal conversation. At 8:33 pm I began the second fast of my life.

My goal: To go three full days without eating anything. The only thing I’m allowed to ingest is water and ice cubes.

For good reason, you might be wondering why I’ve decided to fast. It’s difficult to say. I suppose I have lots of reasons, but I’ll get to all that later. Until then, I have just this to say:

The human will ought not be neglected. The will must be trained, just as we exercise our minds and bodies. If the will goes unexercised, it turns soft and weak, like a balloon that’s shrunk from its birthday party glory to the size of shriveled, black-market kidney.

My will has gone untested for far too long. And I feel it withering away inside me like an orange left to dry in the sun. When one loses his will, he loses his ability to concentrate, his attention span is reduced, he no longer goes on his routine jog, and when he does, he shortens it by cutting corners. He begins eating too much, and studying not enough. He spends too much time reading about how the Buffalo Bills are progressing this offseason. The will functions on all levels: the physical, mental, and emotional. And when it weakens on one level, it weakens on the others.

I’m fasting, in part, to send a shock to my system; to inject it with a squirt of steroids; to bulk it up so I can begin to function again at full capacity.

So few know what the human body is capable of. Thoreau was right when he said, “Man’s capacities have never been measured; nor are we to judge of what he can do by any precedents, so little has been tried.” Bodies, capable of performing dazzling feats, and minds, capable of making great scientific discoveries, have probably gone wasted more than we'd like to know. Without an ascetic’s will, we cannot embrace our true potential. What a sad way to go through life—never knowing what life you could have lived; never knowing what glories you could have reveled in; and never knowing—not just who you could have been—but who you really are.

Time: 11 am (Hour 14 of 72)
Hunger Level: 1

Normally, I would have drank one of David's famous banana-nutmeg smoothies by now. Or had biscuits and gravy with a side of scrambled eggs. Instead, I feel the beginnings of an angry, petulant hunger that's stirring in my gut.

Here's a fine quote from Seneca (4? B.C - A.D 65) that describes, in part, why I've decided to fast:

“It is the mark of a noble spirit not to precipitate oneself into such things [the life of voluntary poverty] on the ground that they are better, but to practice for them on the ground that they are thus easy to endure; when, however, you come to them after long rehearsal, they are even pleasant; for they contain a sense of freedom from care—and without this nothing is pleasant. I hold it essential, therefore, to do what great men have often done:

"Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: ‘Is this the condition that I feared?’ It is precisely in times of immunity from care that the soul should toughen itself beforehand for occasions of greater stress, and it is while Fortune is kind that it should fortify itself against her violence…

"You need not suppose that I mean meals like Timon’s, or ‘pauper’s huts,’ or any other device which luxurious millionaires use to beguile the tedium of their lies. Let the pallet be a real one, and the cloak coarse; let the bread be hard and grimy. Endure all this for three or four days at a time, sometimes for more, so that it may be a test of yourself instead of a mere hobby….

"There is no reason, however, why you should think that you are doing anything great; for you will merely be doing what many thousands of slaves and many thousands of poor men are doing every day. But you may credit yourself with this item—that you will not be doing it under compulsion, and that it will be as easy for you to endure it permanently as to make the experiment from time to time. Let us practice our strokes on the ‘dummy,’ let us become intimate with poverty, so that Fortune may not catch us off our guard. We shall be rich with all the more comfort, if we once learn how far poverty is from being a burden.” (Taken from the fabulous book of quotes, Less is More.)


Spork said...

Well, not sure I'd choose a fast Ken, but the principal you've expressed is one of the reasons I enjoy backpacking. I think that reducing everything to the barest essentials increases our appreciation of everything, especially the essentials.

Anonymous said...

I'm just catching up on what you've been up to this summer. Looks like I caught you at an interesting point with the fast just underway. Try meditating while you are fasting. I look forward to hearing updates. Let's catch up soon. FreeWil

Miranda said...

Kudos to you for fasting. I've been neglecting my mostly raw diet and with the heat these days, I can't bring myself to eat much of anything. I've been thinking a bit about willpower and limitation lately. I've realized I stopped limiting myself. I do things when I feel like it, because I'm able to. Even the freedom to live in my van - I do it because I'm able. In a way it's limiting, but purging the rest of my life is a somewhat self congratulatory act. Like, look at all this stuff I've accumulated and have the ability to give away. I'm not denying myself anything, but it's something I've been thinking about. But really, even limiting yourself is giving yourself something, so maybe I'm looking at it from the wrong perspective.

I suppose what I really need is a true cleanse. A mind, body cleanse. I need to purge the excess in every way, not just when it comes to consumption.

Ken said...

Spork-- Indeed. Though, our newfound appreciation can be so fleeting. On a demanding hike we may tell ourselves that--when we get back--we'll savor all the little things more than ever before; that we'll live fuller and richer with the same things but with a new frame of mind. The meals, air-conditioning, dvd player, a soft bed, all of it. And upon returning--it's true!--these things are savored like never before. But over time we begin to forget our vow to appreciate. The needs and comforts become ordinary again and are taken for granted. I'm sure some have the ability to find ways to be continually thankful. I can't say I'm there yet. Alternatively, if we routinely shock our system--perhaps with a fast, hike, etc.--we can renew our appreciation for essentials and comforts. Food is something I've always taken for granted because I've always had it in great abundance. I suppose I've gone on this fast to remind myself that it's a gift, and one that should not be accepted without due thankfulness.

FreeWil-- it's been too long! I've experienced a few fairly atypical moments during the fast so far. One came last night when David played a CD with chanting Tibetan monks. Really haunting stuff. Though, I've never quite mastered the art of meditation. Always on my to-do list, but never gets done.

Miranda--interesting thoughts. Though I don't think we should view an ascetical "self-congratulatory act" in a negative light. A material purge, a long hike, or a fast makes us feel empowered and in control. I suppose it may seem a bit self-absorbed to advertise it on, say, a blog, but I think it's important to share these experiences with others. If one person can live happily without things or without suffering from three days of no food, maybe others can learn that they can be happy going without too.