Fasting for Spiritual Consciousness and Divine Awareness (1/2)

Spiritual Consciousness 

… [O]ur normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there … No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded. [William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, 388].

When we profess a sincere, firmly held belief, we persevere despite overwhelming challenges. We deprive ourselves of pleasure because a greater benefit or advantage is to be gained. However, who would sacrifice for something they do not respect, admire and love?

It [fasting] is simply a way to make clear that we sufficiently reverence the amazing opportunity to ask help from the everlasting God, the Creator of the universe, to choose to put everything else aside and concentrate on worshiping, asking forgiveness, and making our requests known – considering His help more important than anything we could do ourselves in our own strength and with our own ideas. [Edith Schaeffer].

Spiritual consciousness defines our piety, reverence and fears. It involves worship, obedience, self-restraint and righteous deeds. Essentially, it is a psychological state in which sanctity becomes the primary focus of our attention.dates-water-tasbih

Human motivations are grounded in pleasure and pain. To a believer, the ultimate source of both is God.

We love the pleasure and joy that come from Divine mercy and beneficence, and we fear the consequences of disobeying or displeasing God.

The strongest wish of a vast number of earnest men and women today is for a basis of religious belief which shall rest, not upon tradition or external authority or historical evidence, but upon the ascertainable facts of human experience. The craving for immediacy, which we have seen to be characteristic of all mysticism, now takes the form of a desire to establish the validity of the God-consciousness as a normal part of the healthy inner life. [W. R. Inge, Light, Life, and Love].

The Fast and the Frivolous

Fasting helps us overcome spiritual complacency. Until our consciousness rises above frivolous ambitions and transient hopes, we remain bound to insignificant behavior, idling in the shallows of low expectations.hoarding

Fasting is important, more important perhaps, than many of us have supposed . . . when exercised with a pure heart and a right motive, fasting may provide us with a key to unlock doors where other keys have failed; a window opening up new horizons in the unseen world; a spiritual weapon of God’s provision, mighty, to the pulling down of strongholds. [Arthur Wallis, God’s Chosen Fast].

Fasting prompts the mind toward loftier thoughts, toward acts of devotion and remembrance of God. Together with prayer, they filter out the dregs of impure thoughts, allowing greater Divine awareness to prevail.

And when you have this intention to please God in all your actions, as the happiest and best thing in the world, you will find in you as great an aversion to everything that is vain and impertinent in common life, whether of business or pleasure, as you now have to anything that is profane… [William Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, Ch. 2].

Fasting and Cognition

Fasting elevates our spiritual consciousness. As we know, the fasting brain uses an emergency, backup fuel for energy: ketone bodies. When our cognitive processes rely on energy from ketone bodies, we function on a different frequency.monk-carthusian_cell

Normally, our body converts carbohydrates into glucose for energy. However, when we use up our glucose, our body switches to ketonic energy. During periods of food deprivation, our digestive system breaks down stored fatty acids and converts them into ketone bodies. These substitute for glucose as fuel for the brain. It can be argued that since ketone bodies are the only available alternative to glucose for brain’s energy, ketosis was a critical evolutionary development to provision man’s hypertrophied brain while sparing muscle mass. [Richard L. Veech, Ketone Bodies, Potential Therapeutic Uses].

The altered consciousness produced by ketonic energy reflects our weakened condition. We are no longer poised to respond physically to our environment. Bowed by our frailty, unable to depend on physical strength, we turn to spiritual consciousness.

Without the abundance of glucose derived from a normal diet, we generate no rebellious attitude or arrogant demeanor. Our brain now easily adapts to a program of obedience – and obedience is vital to spiritual consciousness.

There is nothing more harmful to the believer’s heart than having too much food, for it brings about two things; hardness of heart and arousal of desires. Hunger is a condiment for believers, nourishment for the spirit, food for the heart, and health for the body. The Holy Prophet said, ‘The son of Adam fills no worse vessel than his belly.’ [Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq, Lantern of the Path, Section 34].


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Controlling Stress, Anxiety & Depression by Fasting (2/2)

Abstention and Fasting

On Yom Kippur, the Torah commands us to “afflict ourselves” by not eating. To not eat is to suffer. G-d gives us this day to try and wake us up, to shake us out of our slumber, to sensitize us to the truth of reality, to the deeper places within ourselves, to our need for Him. [Rabbi Ilan Weinberg].

Abstention and fasting are often associated with food and eating. However, abstention and fasting have much broader applications, including self-denial of pleasures to reduce or eliminate recurring worries, anxieties and doubts.

When we can ignore worldly distractions, and spurn social pastimes for spiritual growth, we have attained a level of faith that evidences purpose and self-control. At the same time, we have emotionally detached ourselves from secular entanglements, personal worries and detrimental habits.

It is necessary to recognize the effects of the media on ourselves as individuals and on society. As with anything that offers great attractions, it is necessary to develop an asceticism that preserves us from the abuse of technology. [Hugh MacDonald, Asceticism and the Electronic Media. Technophilia and Technophobia in the Perspective of Christian Philosophy].D

Documenting our liberation 

Fasting documents our liberation from bondage to the physical world. It allows us to discard the stress and anxiety packaged into secular allurements. When we fast, we abandon unrestrained indulgence and relish trusting the Divine.

Such spiritual commitment wrests control of our soul from instincts, passions and delusions. With a temporary denial of self-gratification, we begin to establish a permanent pattern of disciplined behavior. We barter present inconvenience and discomfort for future self-control and willpower.

Scripturally, Jesus words underscore this condition: “the spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” [Matthew 26:41]. We may indeed be longing for spiritual awareness, but we are weak-willed.correct-mind-life-fall-into-place-Lao-Tzu

For the thoughts of mortal men are miserable, and our devices are but uncertain. For the corruptible body presseth down the soul, and the earthy tabernacle weigheth down the mind that museth upon many things. [The Wisdom of Solomon 9:15].

For self-realization and spiritual balance, we need to reconcile our inner selves, finding harmony in our actions, thoughts and beliefs. Spiritual fasting unites all three components by requiring a concerted effort of bodily restraint, willpower and devotional exercise.

Elusive and unreliable as it is, the wise man straightens out his restless, agitated mind, like a fletcher crafting an arrow. Trying to break out of the Tempter’s control, one’s mind writhes to and fro, like a fish pulled from its watery home onto dry ground. It is good to restrain one’s mind, uncontrollable, fast-moving, and following its own desires as it is. A disciplined mind leads to happiness [Dhammapada 3:33-35].

Fasting for Change

What is there in our daily life that distracts us from God? What obstacles block our path to spiritual development?

Looking at our lifestyle, do we spend our weekdays consumed by work, and squandered our evenings on sports, fiction, sensational news and inconsequential media talk?

With our thoughts immersed in diversions, how can we remember the Divine? When we look at the world through the entertainment media, our screens and monitors become our windows to reality. Fortunately, fasting can prevent these distractions.thorn

The seeds that fell among the thorns represent those who hear the message, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. And so they never grow into maturity. [Luke 8:14].

Spiritual Immersion

Our daily pursuits often pose contradictions to our spiritual affirmations. They dangle titillating enticements that are offensive to our true self. We can control, even eliminate them, when we extend our fasting into our lifestyle.

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].

Such fasting is more than simple abstention from food for a few hours. It targets the thoughts that breed anxieties and fears. It calls for immersion in a spiritual lifestyle devoted to obedience and submission to our Creator.

When thou art wavering, when thou art anxious and doubtful, when arduous and difficult matters arise, do thou instantly fly to God, consult God, and with, all thy heart, with steadfast confidence, commit the whole affair to Him. Trust not to thine own industry, nor to thine own powers, but to the mercy of God; acknowledging thyself to be unable to conduct things rightly. And thus all things will end prosperously. For God will never neglect what thou hast humbly committed to Him; but will arrange, direct, and complete every affair, as He sees best for the good of thyself and others. [Spiritual Works of Louis of Blois].

Divine Reality

Our anxieties are products of our expectations, suppositions and conjectures of what will happen or be the case in the future. Subconsciously, we produce our own reality in our head of what will occur, then worry about it.

Worry increases illness, so it is also like an accusation against Divine wisdom and a criticism of Divine mercy and complaint against the Compassionate Creator. [Said Nursi, The Flashes Collection].

By fasting, we elevate our awareness of the sacred. From this heightened spiritual perspective, we can recognize the Divine beneficence, compassion and mercy that surround and embrace us.

And unto everyone who is conscious of God, He [always] grants a way out [of unhappiness], and provides for him in a manner beyond all expectation; and for everyone who places his trust in God He [alone] is enough. Verily, God always attains to His purpose: [and] indeed, unto everything has God appointed its [term and] measure. [Quran 65:2-3].

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Controlling Stress, Anxiety & Depression by Fasting (1/2)

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Controlling Stress, Anxiety & Depression by Fasting (1/2)

Fasting, Abstinence & Lifestyle

The beneficial claims of fasting are supported by experimental research, which has found fasting to be associated with increased brain availability of serotonin, endogenous opioids, and endocannabinoids. Fasting-induced neuroendocrine activation and mild cellular stress response with increased production of neurotrophic factors may also contribute to the mood enhancement of fasting. [Andreas Michalsen, Prolonged fasting as a method of mood enhancement in chronic pain syndromes: a review of clinical evidence and mechanisms].

We are subject to complex systems of hormonal and neurological responses to danger. These “fight or flight” responses functions best when activated by natural phenomena. In our modern lifestyles, however, are often activated by stress, anxiety and other fight or flightpsychological stimuli instead of by actual physical danger.

Many activities that we consider entertainment, amusement and recreation may actually be the source of anxieties and worrisome thoughts. Sitting entranced before an electronic gadget exposes us to emotional assaults that can cause serious harm.

Ohio State University researchers found that stress from engaging in a memory task activated the immune system, whereas the stress from passively watching a violent video weakened immunity (as measured by salivary concentration of SIgA, a major immune factor) [Psychophysiology, September-October 2001, in Ohio St.’s OnCampus].

Fasting High

We can be frightened, shocked, thrilled and sexually aroused twenty to thirty times in a couple of  hours of media “entertainment.” These stimuli are comparable to false alarms calling into action internal fire departments, often when we are eating.

And when the body is subjected to multiple stresses . . . it experiences what is called an “allostatic load,” a compounding of effects leading to a breakdown of the immune system. In all these cases, . . . the brain’s normal hormonal stress response can be blunted. The phenomenon can eventually lead to the body’s inability to respond to any stress – the state popularly known as burnout. [Vital Connections, Science of Mind-Body Interactions. A report on the interdisciplinary conference held at NIH March 26-28, 2001].

With work, family and social stressors added, the daily barrage we experience can become overwhelming. Such a continuing flow of emotions and stress can accumulate. Eventually, it envelops our mind and produces suffering and despair, leaving us feeling that we “can’t take anymore.”

Fasting at such times may be the last thing we might consider, but it offers relief supported by both science and religion.

Clinical studies have shown that fasting is effective in lowering blood pressure and treating chronic pain like migraine or arthritis. Neurobiologists at Gottingen University have shown that when patients fast, stress hormones levels go down and serotonin levels rise (which may explain the “fasting high” many patients report). [Stefan Theil, Newsweek. (International ed.). New York: Oct 30, 2006].

Fasting as Catharsis

Generally, catharsis refers to a purifying elimination, an emotional release that relieves and refreshes our spirit. Catharsis can result from the purging of toxins within us, and from preventing new toxins from entering.

Stressful psychological pollutants can stain our sanctity. Our mind easily wanders into toxic thoughts that distress our soul.

O God. Give me the power to be strengthened inwardly and to empty my heart of all vain care and anxiety, so that I may not be drawn away by many desires, whether for precious things or mean ones. Let me look upon everything as passing, and upon myself as soon to pass away with them, because there is nothing lasting under the sun, where all is vanity and affliction of spirit. How wise is he who thinks thus! [Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, Ch. 27].

Fasting gives our body time to discharge, naturally, the accumulated debris of prodigal existence. In addition, it “seals” our mind from new intrusions. It can be a purgation that expels secular impurities within us to purify our soul and reunite us with the Divine.

Cellular decline may be caused by the accumulation of waste products in various tissues, which interferes with nourishment, and oxygenation of the cell … As toxins build up in tissues, a toxic environment is created. It is not uncommon for the symptoms of headache, diarrhea, or depression to occur as the body deals with autotoxicity (self-poisoning). During fasting, the concentration of toxins removed from the body and appearing in the urine can increase ten-fold. [Life Extension].

The catharsis provided by fasting offers relief from self-reproach and guilt feelings. It administers penance, chastisement and punishment in a single spiritual dose. This leads to a sense of purification and reconciliation with your own self.

… a person with a depressed heart and spirit experiences such stress, anxiety, and anguish that no possessions in the world can provide a cure for it. Those who are not awakened to the truth in their souls can never be saved from the spiritual darkness even if they manufacture thousands of yachts and luxurious cars every day. True serenity and happiness is in the God-granted peacefulness of the heart. [Fethullah Gülen].

Fasting  Perspective

Fasting sees temptations from an uncommon perspective that helps restore our emotional spiritual equilibriumequilibrium. An unrestrained mind can become a source of anxiety when it craves what it knows is wrong. Likewise, the rational intellect can desert the soul by rejecting what is spiritually healing.

Fasting exercises our willpower over our material and lower nature. It unshackles our higher impulses, releasing them to soar beyond transient reality. 

 And whoever does more good than he is bound to do does good unto himself thereby; for to fast is to do good unto yourselves – if you but knew it. [Quran 2:184].

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