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.
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.
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].
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].
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.
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].