Lust, Fasting & Self-Control: Weaning the Soul from Desires

Lusts: Insatiable, Fleeting, Unsatisfying

There is no satisfying lusts, even by a shower of gold pieces; he who knows that lusts have a short taste and cause pain, he is wise; even in the [supernal] pleasures [of the devas], he finds no satisfaction; the disciple who is fully awakened delights only in the destruction of all desires [The Dhammapada 14:186-7].

Lust is a common trait of the human character and has a long, sordid history: for “every inclination of his [a human’s] heart is evil from childhood.” [Genesis 8:21]. In spiritual terminology, lust in synonymous with temptation and perdition, being one of the seven deadly sins of Christianity.lust

Unrestrained immersion in physical pleasures produces an insatiable craving for more and more — a desire to increase the volume, amplify the intensity and heighten the emotion. The resulting passions overwhelm the mind, destroying restraint and leaving us enslaved to our lust.

Our reckless cravings do not stop, even when we have all we want. We are not satisfied by any amount of indulgence, so we seek additional depravities to reach our illusory satisfaction.

Our mind becomes a numb spectator, barely remembering the past, staggering between rebellion and arrogance.

So if a man live in any way of lasciviousness, the more his impure lust prevails, the more sweet and pleasant will it make the sin appear, and so the more will he be disposed and prejudiced to think there is no evil in it. [Jonathan Edwards].

Modern Lust

The environment of today’s prodigal society incessantly prods and entices our appetites, arousing passions that overwhelm our spiritual convictions. We find ourselves forgetting our basic beliefs while succumbing to prurient desires. We disregard spiritual progress and the promise of a higher existence for transient pleasure.

Many of us are in captivity, chained to a dissolute lifestyle of sexual desires and perverted appetites. Our modern captors include a wanton consumerism that taints our moral fiber and a faithless relativism that debases our integrity.

Modern lust is a highly advanced strain. Chemicals, pharmaceuticals and technology have added new dimensions to our desires. Packaged with other popular pleasures and commercially marketed in sports and desires-lustsentertainment venues, lust is now globally exploited. Its availability, variety and low cost make it a favorite of everyone, even children.

It is true that the materialistic society, the so-called culture that has evolved under the tender mercies of capitalism, has produced what seems to be the ultimate limit of this worldliness. And nowhere, except perhaps in the analogous society of pagan Rome, has there ever been such a flowering of cheap and petty and disgusting lusts and vanities as in the world of capitalism, where there is no evil that is not fostered and encouraged for the sake of making money.  [Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain, p. 148].

Disease of the Mind

Lust seeps into the void left by the absence of God. Thoughts of self-restraint vanish beneath our rationalization and self-delusion.

The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. [Romans 8:7].

Lust then becomes a hunger that takes control of the mind and makes it heedless of proper conduct.

For temperance, sobriety, and chastity, which we are wont to oppose to luxury, drunkenness, and lust, are not emotions or passive states, but indicate a power of the mind which moderates the last-named emotions . . . But, in reality, avarice, ambition, lust, etc. are species of madness, though they may not be reckoned among diseases. [Baruch Spinoza].

The carnal inclinations of our mind produce distorted impulses that misuse the natural needs of the body. Eventually, lust becomes an attitude, a state of mind that we willfully adopt and to which we knowingly succumb.The_Scream2

Hast thou seen him who chooseth for his god his own lust? Wouldst thou then be guardian over him? Or deemest thou that most of them hear or understand? They are but as the cattle – nay, but they are farther astray?  [Quran 25:43-44].

Weaning the Soul from Lust

Fasting is a natural antidote against lust. Whether we fast for spiritual or therapeutic reasons, the absence of nutrients in our body sends us into a uniquely disciplined pattern of self-control.

… every wise man will refrain his soul, and keep it low; will wean it more and more from all those indulgences of the inferior appetites, which naturally tend to chain it down to earth, and to pollute as well as debase it. Here is another perpetual reason for fasting; to remove the food of lust and sensuality, to withdraw the incentives of foolish and hurtful desires, of vile and vain affections. [John Wesley, The Sermons of John Wesley, Sermon 27.4].

Fasting heals the soul overwhelmed by lust. During the momentary intermission between intemperance and overindulgence, before we again feel the pull of our lustful desires, we can take steps to prevent the recurring excesses.

A man who eats too much cannot strive against laziness, while a gluttonous and idle man will never be able to contend with sexual lust. Therefore, according to all moral teachings, the effort towards self-control commences with a struggle against the lust of gluttony—commences with fasting. [Leo Tolstoy, The First Step, The Works of Leo Tolstoy].

By fasting, we temporarily tame passions and subdue cravings. With reduced nutrients diminishing physical passions, our heightened spiritual awareness helps us sublimate worldly appetites.

For he who fasts, is light and active, and prays wakefully, and quenches his evil lusts, makes God propitious, and humbles his proud stomach. And he who prays with his fasting, has two wings, lighter than the winds themselves. [Saint Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea (or Golden Chain): St. Matthew].

PrayerEntering into Your Self

A fast proclaims our freedom from lust and self-destructive passions. It is a manifesto declaring that the physical world no longer holds us in bondage.

We become sober when we fast. Our demeanor resembles a person in pain or ill. Trivial pleasures and amusements have little attraction.

We eat for God so that our body may gain strength to serve God and perform our duties and responsibilities towards others. It is also for God that we hunger, to subdue the body lest it sin against God, to control and not be controlled bodily desires and lusts so that they may not control our actions. We behave in accordance with the spirit, not the body, for the sake of our love of God, and the fellowship with His Divine Spirit. Fasting for any other reason, is rejected by God. [H.H. Pope Shenouda III, The Spirituality of Fasting, p. 58].

By diminishing sexual desires, fasting facilitates discipline and self-control. We exchange material and transitory physical pleasures for unrestrained trust in God.

Turning to a higher consciousness harnesses our unrestrained passions and strengthens our resolve. Ultimately, the mercy of God frees us – and God is most merciful.

Fasting cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects one’s flesh to the spirit, renders the heart contrite and humble, scatters the clouds of concupiscence, quenches the fire of lust, and kindles the true light of chastity. Enter again into yourself. [St. Augustine, “On Prayer and Fasting,” Quoted by St. Thomas Aquinas].

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Spiritual Appetite: Craving for the Mercy of God

Divine Craving & the Mercy of God

Even if we have thousands of acts of great virtue to our credit, our confidence in being heard must be based on God’s mercy and His love for humanity. Even if we stand at the very summit of virtue, it is by mercy that we shall be saved. [St. John Chrysostom].

Mercy is an attribute that God has imposed upon Himself. From it, the penitent soul receives an inspired passion that leads to a life dedicated to God. This godly life protects the soul against overwhelming fear and despair.

For by Grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. [Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)].

We must not underestimate the power of lust. But, even more important, we must understand how the soul can overcome it. Our ability to moderate and overpower lust depends solely on the mercy of God. It is God’s mercy that provides an escape from our depravity.

And when those who believe in Our messages come unto thee, say: “Peace be upon you. Your Sustainer has willed upon Himself the law of grace and mercy – so that if any of you does a bad deed out of ignorance, and thereafter repents and lives righteously, He shall be [found] much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace.” [Quran 6:54]

Divine Craving

Our natural disposition is to want, desire, crave. To be passive, without passion or ambition, leaves us unfulfilled. Our sadness, unhappiness and frustrations are all related to our inability to have what we want. proverbs15-14a

Moreover, the absence of a defined purpose, the lack of meaning in our life, leads to melancholia, dejection, depression, despondency, gloominess.

There is a joy which is not given to the ungodly, but to those who love Thee for Thine own sake, whose joy Thou Thyself art. And this is the happy life, to rejoice to Thee, of Thee, for Thee; this it is, and there is no other. [Confessions, Saint Augustine, XXII].

Without this divinely inspired enthusiasm, all personal resolutions, self-help programs and religious rituals are ineffective in conquering lust. Only the infinite and eternal mercy of God can transform us.

If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great. God did not create you for this. There is an appetite for God. And it can be awakened. I invite you to turn from the dulling effects of food and the dangers of idolatry, and to say with some simple fast: “This much, O God, I want you.” [John Piper, A Hunger for God, p. 23].

 No Place for Lust

In the very act of seeking God, we have evidence of His mercy working within us. It is a sign of Grace, for which we have hoped and waited.

Say, “O My servants who have transgressed against themselves [by sinning], do not despair of the mercy of Allah. Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Indeed, it is He who is the Forgiving, the Merciful.” [Quran 39:53]Mercy-street-sign2

This longing for God brings our mind into submission to the Divine Will.  When we surrender our soul in humble penance, we align our thoughts with the Divine Mind, where carnal lust finds no place.

We implore the mercy of God, not that He may leave us at peace in our vices, but that He may deliver us from them. [Blaise Pascal].

Breaking Lust

We break with the world of lustful craving in exchange for being bonded to God. We find ourselves out of sync with the secular and in step with the sacred.

You, Lord, are forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to you. Hear my prayer, Lordlisten to my cry for mercy.
When I am in distress, I call to you, because you answer me. [Psalm 86].

With a sincere and fervent longing for God within us, our worldview shifts from the transient toward the eternal. We begin to see life differently. We no longer seek physical pleasure to satisfy our desires, nor carnal pleasure to satisfy our lust.

Call unto your Sustainer humbly, and in the secrecy of your hearts. Verily, He loves not those who transgress the bounds of what is right: hence, do not spread corruption on earth after it has been so well ordered. And call unto Him with fear and longing: verily, God’s grace is ever near unto the doers of good! [Quran 7:55-6].

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Wanting God

A hermit meditating by a river was interrupted by a young man: “Master, I wish to become your disciple,” said the man. “Why?” replied the hermit. The young man thought for a moment. “Because I want to find God.”

The master grabbed him by the neck, and plunged his head under water. After holding him there a few moments, kicking and struggling, the master let him up. The young man coughed up water ahogado2and gasped to get his breath. When he quieted down, the master spoke. “Tell me, what did you want most of all when you were under water.”

“Air!” answered the young man.

“Very well,” said the master. “Go home and come back to me when you want God as much as you just wanted air.” [Unknown author]

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Nutrition & Your Mind: Faith, Emotions & Healing

Emotions, Nutrition & Faith

Worship is the believer’s response of all that he is – mind, emotions, will, and body – to all that God is and says and does. This response has its mystical side in subjective experience, and its practical side in objective obedience to God’s revealed truth. It is a loving response that is balanced by the fear of the Lord, and it is a deepening response as the believer comes to know God better. [Warren Wiersbe, Real Worship, p. 26].

Emotions, nutrition and faith are closely related. Healthy emotions support healthy physiological and psychological states. Positive emotions, such as compassion, generosity and love, reduce stress and thereby help the cardiovascular, respiratory and parasympathetic nervous systems.

Hormones are the mediating agents on which our emotions depend. They impact how our body functions and also play a central role in our psychological health.

Through hormonal communications and interactions, our emotions affect food intake, absorption, assimilation, biosynthesis, catabolism and excretion.

Our emotions and our immune system are also intertwined. Research studies have confirmed that depression accelerates development of cancer and heart disease. For example, the immune systems of individuals who are chronically stressed display abnormally lower levels of natural killer cells, lymphocytes, and T-helper cells. [See: Diet, Stress, and Emotions: The Mind-Body-Diet Connection].Qexec-grass

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. [Philippians 4:6-7 (NKJV)].

Bitter Thoughts Make a Bitter Life

By being thoughtless of others, we easily fall into detrimental habits that hinder our spiritual development. Harboring bitterness, enmity and hostility toward family, friends and fellow-workers harms our own souls and ultimately impairs our health.

Truly in the body there is a morsel of flesh which, if it be whole, all the body is whole and which, if it be diseased, all of it is diseased. Truly it is the heart. [Forty Hadith, an-Nawawi #6].

By asking forgiving when we are unkind to others and by forgiving those who show unkindness to us, we cultivate salutary habits that nourish our spirit and promote good health.

We should not delay or avoid reconciliation. Instead, we should make the first move, taking the first step toward restoring friendship and trust in one another.

Whoever, by a good deed, covers the evil done, such a one illumines this world like the moon freed from clouds. [Dhammapada 173].

Emotions  & Digestion

A particle of food does not provide the same amount of nourishment under all conditions. Our body is not always disposed to process food in the same way. Our physical and mental states have considerable influence on how food nourishes us.

Our digestive system is affected by our emotions in many ways. Many emotional responses involve the release of hormones (e.g., adrenaline, cortisol) that trigger involuntary reactions.

Our emotions can also cause changes in your digestive system, including lack of appetite, heartburn, nausea and stomach pains. They can also affect the assimilation of nutrients.

People want to feel good and feel God, and the way to get there is through the emotions. They’re the link that connects body to soul, and as such, they’re the key to transforming anything, everything. [Candace Pert, Everything You Need to Know to Feel Go(o)d,  p. 28].

Since our spirituality affects our emotions, it also affects the manner in which we absorb nutrients. As a car gets poor gas mileage from a poorly tuned engine, so does a spiritually imbalanced person squander nutritionally healthy food.eating-on-the-run4

Can then one who is on a clear (Path) from his Lord be likened unto one to whom the evil of his own doings [always] seems goodly, and unto such as would follow their own lusts? [Quran 47:14].

Psychological Labyrinth

We can try to manipulate our emotions through dietary regimens. Certain foods can provide temporary emotional comfort by increasing blood sugar and serotonin levels in our brain.

But, diet is a limited and uncertain tool for controlling emotions. Ultimately, only our spirituality offers an established process for attending to our emotions and, thereby, improving our health.

A person whose mind is unperturbed by sorrow, who does not crave pleasures, and who is completely free from attachment, fear, and anger, is called an enlightened sage of steady intellect. [Bhagavad Gita 2:56].

Every lurid thought is a potential distraction leading away from remembrance of God. Moreover, such thoughts can group themselves and become persuasive emotions leading to uncontrolled desires. When fully armed, they become passions that penetrate deep into your inner consciousness producing a psychological labyrinth most difficult to escape.woman-drinking - bowl2

Whatever is done without faith, whether it is sacrifice, charity, austerity, or any other act is useless. It has no value here or hereafter …  [Bhagavad Gita 17.28].

Spiritual Nutrition

Our intentions mold the spirit underlying our thoughts. We may have evil intentions, charitable intentions, or simply act without giving much thought to what we are doing.

In any case, our moral and spiritual beliefs are spread at the base of our intentions, lining our thoughts. Given adequate authority, these beliefs control our purpose and keep us from negative thoughts and regrettable deeds.

 

Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil. [Psalm 37:4-8 (NIV)].

Mental & Spiritual Equilibrium

Our mental equilibrium reflects our spiritual disposition. Thinking well of our rivals, remembering God often and bringing to mind our own faults and weaknesses produce healthy physiological and physiological states.

A good practice is to pray for those with whom we are angry or toward whom we feel bitterness. When negativity begins seeping into our thought process, stop it with good thoughts and a humble prayer.

It is wonderful how the exercise of one’s will … will eventuate in the correct emotions. Determining to wish that person’s good; deliberately trying to do something loving for him; and praying for him – all this will some day bring about the emotion of love itself. [Isobel Kuhn, Ascent to the Tribes].

Always be ready to help others. Being predisposed to goodness means that we carry it around with us. It becomes our habit, a way of life, and part of our spiritual immune system.

The good deed and the evil deed are not alike. Repel the evil deed with one which is better, then lo! he, between whom and thee there was enmity (will become) as though he was a bosom friend. And no one will be granted such goodness except those who exercise patience and self-restraint,- none but persons of the greatest good fortune. [Quran 41:33-35].

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