What the eyes are for the outer world, fasts are for the inner. -M.K. Gandhi

It’s Saturday. I’ve been fasting for over twenty-four hours. My last meal was back on Wednesday evening. However, my statement is truthfully a lie.

Last night, for a final supper in Paris before heading back home for the holidays, I forced a small bowl of vegetable soup down my throat. I wasn’t hungry, but I knew I would have disappointed Madame Joffres by skipping out on my final Parisian dinner of the year.

So, broke my fast-going all day Thursday into Friday, until an evening’s bowl of soup. Now today: Saturday afternoon. I come to my present condition.

Above a rain slick Paris and flying northward over an expanse of whiteness, the sun is welcomed, but noticeably, it increases the irregular internal heat of my body. My cheeks feel burnt, my flesh cooking from within, my nose feels as though it’s being squeezed by a wrench. My head is heavy. My eyes are sunken and somber.

Above all, I’m exhausted as the toxins are purged from my system. I question whether it is time to fully break this fast…but over airline food?

The Best Of All Medicines

It is not easy to convince someone to change his or her habits for the good of all sentient beings by starving yourself to death. In the first place, those who are committing a disagreeable act are doing so out of their own will, whether it’s harming one person or multiple beings. Therefore, what would they care if another person starved?

Principally, fasting is performed under the accords of the practitioner desiring not external change, but internal transformation.

Principally, fasting is performed under the accords of the practitioner desiring not external change, but internal transformation.

The body is constantly bombarded by action, sensation and work in one form or another. From time to time it’s beneficial for physical and mental health to eliminate as much stimulation as possible in order to rest and cleanse itself of its collected work. Here is where fasting’s role comes to play when practiced with the best intentions.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “The best of all medicines is resting and fasting.”

In such regards, caring for the mind and body is to awaken oneself to the day’s highest potential, and the practice of fasting is a spiritual endeavor. It is its own spiritual retreat as time, effort and strength are honored and one withdraws into inner discipline.

For me, my fast was designed for it all. It was my own protest against the enormity of the modern world’s food consumption, equally as it was my retreat center of self-purification; a cleanse of the mind, body and soul for a variety of personal reasons. In Gandhi’s words, my fast was the eyes into my inner soul.

Fasting As A Force For Change

Mohandas K. Gandhi was an avid man of fasts. The small Hindu man who lived in the deserts of Gujarati lived this principal more fully than any other man. He was the ideal figure for the precepts he stood for as far as non-violence and the power of change.

Gandhi commenced a daily fast once a week, as a practice for the people as well as himself. He would allow his body absolute rest for one whole day, fasting and going so far as to prohibit speech. He cleansed himself, purifying his mind and body by washing away its accumulated toxins, which in turn renewed his strength.

During a fast, Gandhi often found himself lying in bed after a week or more. He rested to conserve his energy, but fought ardently, standing up for the people of his country. His intention during each fast was to provoke change within the British colonial rule and liberate the India of his heart.

He fervently encouraged his followers to remain firm to the precepts of non-violence, for Gandhi was a believer, above all; believing that anything could be done if one puts their mind, body and soul to it. We all know the phrase-turned bumper sticker, refrigerator magnet and IKEA print poster: Be the change you wish to see in the world.

As he broke his fast and eased back into the intake of food, he would sip orange juice with a relaxed and clean internal system. The thin frail-looking man was charged with new energy.

The Roots of Reverance

Apart from Gandhi, other cultures have practiced the spiritual discipline of fasting. In fact, fasting has a history stretching as far back to the first records of mankind.

In the Far East fasting was known for its cultivation of wisdom and spiritual knowledge, as well as self-purification. In the West, it was-and remains to be-a source of religious penance, though a practice dispersed far underground in the modern consumption of today’s society.

Likewise, tribal religions around the world fasted as a form of sacrifice towards the gods, allowing their humanness to dissolve as they fed off and nourished themselves with prayer and worship.

When America’s overachiever, Ben Franklin, remarked about fasting’s health benefits, he was speaking from his Christian origins. He realized the power behind the purge; opening the mind, body and soul to the will of God. While Jesus lived on earth, he spent 40 days and 40 nights fasting, preparing his Self for Satan’s fated temptations.

My Kind of Re-education

As the purposes of the fast remain broad, so to are the ideas for the cleanse. To reiterate this signifying factor of the fast, it is important to point out how necessary it is, from time-to-time, to stop and renew.

The human mind and body benefit when we halt all intake and drop our life’s brush so we may splash a whole new layer of crisp white paint upon our canvas. It’s as though we start anew when we abstain from food and drink.

It’s a re-breath of fresh air as we re-teach ourselves a different style of survival. We’re reminded of the presence of the non-physical and the strength we may find there when only we look and believe.

It brings us a clarity that has faded in the governing eyes of the world.

When we’re faced with change, movement, dramatic stops and starts, a fast can come in handy by giving us that option to start anew. It’s scraping out the old and replacing it with the new. It’s weeding the garden in order to cultivate next season’s growth. From the end of one year, and now-a year older and a year wiser-into the next and onward.

You become light, lean and spirited for this jump. You’re ready for the change. You’ve been reborn by your own strength, determination and inner discipline.

This was my fast: a self-controlled method to bring about awareness and gratefulness as I honored the recent, as well as the old, which carried me into the present moment. It was self-purification for the healthful and joyousness in life.

Firm As An Empty Stomach

I skip lunch and soon we descend upon Copenhagen. It’s my first and last layover before hopping on a plane direct to Seattle.
I tune in to the awareness of my body as the plane moves down through the clouds and into the lower atmosphere. I feel light, almost numb.

I inhale, fill my lungs, pressing deep into my empty stomach, and exhale. I reflect on the year as it comes to a close and give my Self a silent affirmation:

I’m ready for all that is and all that will be offered in this coming year. I withdraw into my center of spiritual retreat and honor my Self, giving thanks to the blessings of this world. I stand inward with my fast, choosing not to eat with those who have no choice in the matter.

I open the heart and soul to my surroundings, enabling my Self to learn to give more freely. I’m here today with my whole being-living, loving, breathing and fasting into the eyes of my inner soul. I am ready. I am the creator of my life.

My fast continues the following nine hours as I fly across the Atlantic and over North America to Seattle.

Cameron Karsten writes a weekly spiritual travel column for Brave New Traveler. Each week he will explore the emerging art and practices of spiritual travel. To read his previous columns, see the “also in this series” links below.