Fasting, Ketone Bodies & Spiritual Consciousness (1/2)

Ketones and Consciousness

… Fasting is useful as atoning for and preventing sin, and as raising the mind to spiritual things. And everyone is bound by the natural dictate of reason to practice fasting as far as it is necessary for these purposes. [Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica].

How do we remove the obstacles blocking our view of true reality? How do we limit the influence of technology and media on our mind? Is there a way to increase our focus on the Divine? binary_tunnel

The heightened spiritual consciousness experienced by a fasting person is recognized in every major religion and, indirectly, by science. The unique perspective produced by fasting’s ketonic energy reflects the physical weakness of the body and a heightened awareness of Divine Reality.

What, then! you will say, are we all inspired? Yes, doubtless; but not as were the prophets and apostles. Without the actual inspiration of the Spirit of grace, we could neither do, nor will, nor believe any good thing. We are, then, always inspired, but we incessantly stifle the inspiration.  [Francois Fenelon, Spiritual Progress, p. 55].

Fasting and the Brain

Ketosis is the condition during fasting where the body switches from glucose to ketone bodies for fuel. When the body metabolizes ketone bodies during ketosis, it generates elevated levels of ketones, which are detectable in the breath, urine, and blood. Ketone urine testing strips test for ketones in urine.

With ketone bodies as fuel, the brain may not experience the normal metabolic reactions it does when on a standard diet. Electrical impulses produced by ketone bodies may differ from those produced by glucose.facts_about_our_brain

In comparison with glucose, the ketone bodies are a very good respiratory fuel. Whereas 100 g of glucose generates 8.7 kg of ATP, 100 g of 3-hydroxybutyrate can yield 10.5 kg of ATP, and 100 g of acetoacetate 9.4 kg of ATP [5]. The brain will use ketone bodies whenever provided with them (i.e., whenever blood ketone body levels rise). [Anssi H Manninen, Metabolic Effects of the Very-Low-Carbohydrate Diets: Misunderstood “Villains” of Human Metabolism].

Ketones: The Fragrance of Fasting

In the brain, the ketone bodies are used in the energy producing Krebs cycle. This process is very efficient and more ketone bodies are produced than can be utilized by the body for fuel.

The excess ketones are excreted in the breath and urine. The noticeable odor of a faster’s breath is a byproduct of ketosis and, to an extent, a measure of the degree of our fasting.

When the rate of production of acetoacetate and β-hydroxybutyrate exceeds the rate of their utilization, the result is ketosis. Under these conditions, acetone, a spontaneous breakdown product of acetoacetate, accumulates and becomes noticeable as “acetone breath”.  [Jeff D Cronk, Gonzaga University, BIOCHEMISTRY Dictionary].

Our congested cavities echo the braying emanating from putrid thoughts. As we gorge on earthly knowledge from message boards, mundane news and office gossip, a stench forms on our breath that we spew regularly.

By contrast, what we partake of spiritual nourishment remains as scent on our breath to the Day of Judgment for the fragrance of a fasting mouth is as perfume to God:

Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Apostle said, “By Him in Whose Hands my soul is, the smell coming out from the mouth of a fasting person is more fragrant to Allah [God] than the fragrance of musk.” [Sahih Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 31, Number 115].

The Mellowed Brain

The body reflects the altered metabolic condition produced by the energy of ketone bodies. The fast dispels self-centeredness and egotism as we humbly plead for God’s mercy and forgiveness.

Our primary attitude while fasting becomes submission. With the glucose levels of a standard diet reduced, pride or arrogance have little to sustain them. The restraining bit of fasting in our mouth provides the discipline necessary for enhancing God-consciousness.

Fasting MELLOWS a man and enhances his character, giving jolt to the human instincts of ‘PRIDE, HAUGHTINESS, ENVY and AMBITION, for when fasting, a man’s energies are too sapped to follow these instincts which are the chief causes of discord and conflict among men. [Marhum Ahmed Sheriff Dewji].

Mind Your Synapses

Piety and its effect on our metabolism are not easily measured or controlled. Our thoughts may often be just a few synapses away from egotism, pride and delusion. When we fast for God, our intention establishes the goal. Our mind sets out to attain an altered state of consciousness that opens the soul to the Divine.Synapse_in_brain2

Through fasting and praying, we allow Him to come and satisfy the deepest hunger that we experience in the depths of our being: the hunger and thirst for God. [Pope Benedict XVI].

When we harbor negative emotions, we hardened hearts. When we excessively indulge in worldly matters, we transform whims into passions, pleasure into lust, and pastimes into addiction.

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].

Spiritual Energy 

Spiritual fasting emerges from an emotional condition produced by sincere faith. Having abandon our prodigal lifestyle, we rush with fervent enthusiasm to restore our relationship with God.

The fasting prescribed by the religion is to abstain from eating and drinking and sexual intercourse from dawn to sunset, while spiritual fasting is, in addition, to protect all the senses and thoughts from all that is unlawful. It is to abandon all that is disharmonious, inwardly as well as outwardly. The slightest breach of that intention breaks the fast. Religious fasting is limited by time, while spiritual fasting is forever and lasts throughout one’s temporal and eternal life. This is true fasting. [Shaykh Abdul Qadir Jilani, Spiritual Fasting].

Spiritual energy produces spiritual thoughts. It is the energy found in sacred places, in majestic scenes from nature, in Scripture — and in fasting. It is the Divine energy that calls us to reflect on our existence and proclaim, “Praise God!”

And whoever does more good than he is bound to do, it is better for him; for to fast is better for you – if you only knew. [Quran – 2:184].


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Fasting Works: Putting Faith into Action

Fasting Works

One of the meanings of penitential fasting is to help us recover an interior life  . . . This principle can be appropriately applied to the mass media. Their usefulness is indisputable, but they must not become the “masters” of our life. In how many families does television seem to replace personal conversation rather than to facilitate it! A certain “fasting” also in this area can be healthy, both for devoting more time to reflection and prayer, and for fostering human relations. [Pope John Paul II, Sunday Angelus – March 10, 1996].

We often place strict boundaries around our spiritual life. Our inner values and deepest beliefs by which we live usually remain private. We tend to relegate religion to rituals and certain social functions relevant to a limited portion of our total existence. Our spirituality rarely travels with us in public.quran-plate

Fasting provides a convergence of the religious and the spiritual. While observing a prescribed ritual, we satisfy an inner need for greater consciousness of the Divine.

Fasting asserts the will against the appetite … Ascetic practices, which in themselves strengthen the will, are only useful in so far as they enable the will to put its own house (the passions) in order, as a preparation for offering the whole man to God. [C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, p. 112].

Bringing Out Our Best

We have been given prescribed days for fasting. However, many of our fasts are private. No one knows if we are really fasting. Yet, we know that God knows.

Fasting sharpens our focus, intensifies our spiritual awareness and promotes faith to a place of prominence. While fasting, we concentrate on the spiritual, even while engaging in the secular. Fasting is an extended devotion that adorns our daily affairs, a continuing piety we carrying into our most mundane tasks.

In today’s secular environment, we often find faith hiding beneath entertainment, employment and transient trivialities. Rarely do we meet individuals truly dedicated to cultivating a devout life. They are normally far from our regular path.

Consider the lively examples set us by the saints, who possessed the light of true perfection and religion, and you will see how little, how nearly nothing, we do. What, alas, is our life, compared with theirs? The saints and friends of Christ served the Lord in hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness, in work and fatigue, in vigils and fasts, in prayers and holy meditations, in persecutions and many afflictions.  [The Imitation of Christ, Thomas À Kempis, Chapter 18].

Even among those who loudly proclaim their faith, and who work to call others to it, the lure of our technologically innovative culture demotes worship to fleeting moments of scurried devotion. Actual connection to God accounts for an insignificant fraction of their day.nun-cell

When we fast, we turn from the “things” that daily grab our attention and focus deeply on Him. During that time, we come to realize how much food and the things of this world are occupying our thoughts, time, activities and finances. Some may realize, too, that they have been famished for spiritual food. [Bill Bright, The Importance of Fasting].

We cannot fast our way into bliss any more than we can buy our way out of perdition. Fasting is merely a spiritual exercise in preparation for Divine service, a vessel we board to cross turbulent waters.

We need to rehearse what we have learned, put into practice what we believe. This is usually very difficult. Spiritual disciplines, such as fasting, help us cleanse our inner being of the impurities clogging our thoughts and inhibiting our best qualities.

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. [James 1:27].

Fast Thinking

Right thinking is not easy. Our mind often runs amuck, out of our control, into delusion, fancy and egotism. We harbor negative feelings toward our brothers and sisters. We harbor resentment and grudges in our hearts. We remain bound to our carnal thoughts. Obviously, we can always use some spiritual discipline.

We rarely carry out what we aspire spiritually. Our actions fall far short of our intentions. We intend, wish and hope to do what is good, what is best, but often procrastinate, prematurely quit or simply fail.

In the same way that even a felled tree will grow again if its root is strong and undamaged, so if latent desire has not been rooted out, then suffering shoots up again and again. [Dhammapada 24:338].

On the inner battlefront of thoughts, on the outer battle front of words and deeds, spiritual warfare rage, even among hermits and recluses. We are never free of temptations.

Fasting is a proven shield and a tested practice. Well placed and used correctly, it can protect us from many missiles directed at some of our weakest points.

Do you fast? Prove it by doing good works. If you see someone in need, take pity on them. If you see a friend being honored, don’t get jealous of him. For a true fast, you cannot fast only with your mouth. You must fast with your eye, your ear, your feet, your hands, and all parts of your body. [St. John Chrysostom, On Fasting].

Fasting Works

Neither the therapeutic value nor the spiritual benefits of fasting are ends in themselves. We must make careful distinction between ascetic self-mortification leading to withdrawal, and the abstinence devoted to an active spiritual life. We must be ever cautious of evading reality and avoiding compassionate involvement.

Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet (PBUH) said, “Whoever does not give up forged speech and evil actions [during Ramadan], Allah is not in need of his leaving his food and drink (i.e. Allah will not accept his fasting.)” [Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 31, Number 127].

Spiritual living requires constant reaffirmation of faith through daily works. Daily activity must be patterned by Divine guidance.prayer__muslim2

After the fast, we should feel ready to act, to engage in a better directed life. Life’s purpose should be clarified and our intentions to act righteously affirmed. We should feel ready to dive into the service of God with renewed vigor and strength, if God’s so wills.

The penitential practices suggested by the Church especially during this Lenten season include fasting. This means special moderation in the consumption of food except for what is necessary to maintain one’s strength. This traditional form of penance has not lost its meaning; indeed, perhaps it ought to be rediscovered, especially in those parts of the world and in those circumstances where not only is there food in plenty but where one even comes across illnesses from overeating. [Pope John Paul II, Penitential Fasting Is Therapy for the Soul, Sunday Angelus – March 03, 1996].


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Fasting and Repentance: Turning the Heart

Fasting and Repentance

… Repentance is a contract with God for a second life. A penitent is a buyer of humility. Repentance is constant distrust of bodily comfort … Repentance is the daughter of hope and the renunciation of despair. A penitent is an undisgraced convict. Repentance is reconciliation with the Lord by the practice of good deeds contrary to the sins. Repentance is purification of conscience. Repentance is the voluntary endurance of all afflictions. A penitent is the inflicter of his own punishments. Repentance is a mighty persecution of the stomach, and a striking of the soul into vigorous awareness. [St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 5].

The symptoms of repentance resemble an illness. In the midst of our regret, we feel little inclination to socialize, or even to eat. Spiritually disoriented, we withdraw from our normal lifestyle, apathetic about pastimes and amusements.fasting-fajr2

When immersed in sin, drowning in lust, passions and depravity, we can use fasting as a rope to pull ourselves back to the safety offered by God. Then, we may continue fasting to stay spiritually conscious and well-directed.

Fasting helps repentance by augmenting our spiritual awareness and documenting our remorse. A fast may first prod guilt and generate consciousness of our misconduct. It also evidences heartfelt regret and sorrow, signs of true repentance.

“Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart and not your garments. [Joel 2:12-13 (NIV)].

Faith in Action

By expressing our repentance through fasting, we translate our thoughts into physical action, our emotion becomes a reality. However, the act of fasting does not constitute repentance. Fasting is only a manifestation of our sorrow, a demonstration of our regret.

A holy and lawful fast has three ends in view. We use it either to mortify and subdue the flesh, that it may not wanton, or to prepare the better for prayer and holy meditation; or to give evidence of humbling ourselves before God, when we would confess our guilt before him. [John Calvin, The Institutes of Christian Religion].

Repentance and humility are intimately coupled in the truly awakened conscience. Grounded in acknowledged guilt, they force the remorseful mind into correcting distorted thoughts. With sincere penance, we revise our attitude and behavior. We refocus the image we have of ourselves and of others around us.

It is a traditional doctrine of Christian spirituality that a constituent part of repentance, of turning away from sin and back to God, includes some form of penance, without which the Christian is unlikely to remain on the narrow path and be saved (Jer. 18:11, 25:5; Ez. 18:30, 33:11-15; Joel 2:12; Mt. 3:2; Mt. 4:17; Acts 2:38). Christ Himself said that His disciples would fast once He had departed (Lk. 5:35). The general law of penance, therefore, is part of the law of God for man. [Colin B. Donovan, STL. The Holy Season of Lent].

Follow Divine Guidance

The Hebrew word teshuvah and the Arabic tauba both mean “repentance.” Their literal translation is “to turn” or “return.” They express the scriptural process of turning away from a path of error back to the path of God.Repentance2

“Rebbe, I am a sinner. I would like to return, to do teshuvah!” R. Israel of Ryzhin looked at the man before him. He did not understand what the man wanted. “So why don’t you do teshuvah?””Rebbe, I do not know how!” R. Israel retorted. “How did you know to sin?” The remorseful sinner answered simply. “I acted, and then I realized that I had sinned.” “Well,” said the Rebbe, “the same applies to teshuvah, repent and the rest will follow of itself!” [Quoted in “The Dynamics of Teshuva” from the book Deep Calling Unto Deep, by Dr. J. Immanuel Schochet].

This turning requires a change in thinking. We must reject our wayward and delusional lifestyle and return to obeying Divine guidance.

The New Testament word for repentance means changing one’s mind so that one’s views, values, goals, and ways are changed and one’s whole life is lived differently. The change is radical, both inwardly and outwardly; mind and judgment, will and affections, behavior and lifestyle, motives and purposes, are all involved. Repenting means starting a new life. [J. I. Packer].

Turn Right @ the Light

Repentance is acknowledgment of shameful, deplorable, and wrongful action that shows disobedience to the Divine Will. Such disobedience, when deliberate, results in spiritual estrangement, separation from our sacred relationship with our Creator.

Surely God loves those who turn unto him in repentance and loves those who purify themselves. [Quran 2:222].

A mistake may be inadvertent, but evil is willful. The cognitive mind must understand that it has deviated from its proper course. It has transgressed beyond Divine boundaries.

The heart must then turn to the right. Even before we perform any penance, this turning of the heart is necessary.

The individual who truly repents, not only sees sin to be detestable and vile and worthy of abhorrence, but he really abhors it, and hates it in his heart. A person may see sin to be hurtful and abominable, while yet his heart loves it, and desires it, and clings to it. But when he truly repents, he most heartily abhors and renounces it. [Charles G. Finney].

Tears of the Fasting Heart

Penitential fasting symbolizes the crying of our entire physical body. When we fast, our tears come from our heart, then seep into every crevice of our mind.yom-kippur-verse-290

Crying helps us endure as we make our way back. Sincere tears purify us, clearing our clouded vision, and wiping away anguish and grief.

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. [1 Corinthians 10:13].

Our fasting and our tears provide physical vehicles that bring our lament to the surface. They document our heart turning to God and relieve the burdens weighing our soul.

On no soul doth Allah place a burden greater than it can bear; for it is (the benefit of) what it has earned and against it (the evil of) what it deserved: (Pray:) “Our Lord! do not punish us if we forget or fall into error! Our Lord! Lay not on us such a burden as thou didst lay on those before us! Our Lord! Lay not on us a burden greater than we have strength to bear! Blot out our sins, and grant us forgiveness. Have mercy on us. Thou art our Protector; Help us against those who stand against faith.” [Quran 2:286].


Jonah and Nineveh

Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.

When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh:

“By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. [Jonah 3:4-10].


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