Friday Fasting: A Weekly Practice to Bring Back Focus and Strength
How a small practice can enrich the powers of restraint and mindfulness that is so lacking these days
Fasting has been a practice in many spiritual traditions for millennia. From those in the clergy, to monks and lay people, abstaining from food and/or drink in a ritualistic manner has been embraced because of the many benefits it is supposed to offer. Among them are:
- it can serve as a foundation to break bad habits
- it calms the mind, allowing for concentration and focus on other things
- it builds strength and willpower
- it helps to even out appetite and cravings
Recently, I decided that I’m in need of a kick-start to my personal growth. To me, something like this seemed right up my alley. Simple to implement, cost-effective, and tried and true throughout generations and geographies. So this last Friday, I began a weekly Friday Fast.
What I’m Doing
Every Friday, at least for the foreseeable future, I will be fasting from dawn to dusk. I will wake up (normally 4–5 a.m.), have coffee and a small something to eat. After that, I won’t eat anything, and I will drink only water, coffee, or unsweetened tea until the sun sets. It’s that simple. Simple, but not necessarily easy. Everything else during my day goes as normal.
Why I’m Doing It
In short, I am much too licentious, in general, but with food especially. So tackling my tendency to just do what I feel like doing by starting with food seems pretty sensible to me.
If I can get by and work through hunger and cravings for the better part of a day, it’s an affirmation that I am strong enough to take on numerous other difficult tasks. It is an affirmation of my abilities and strength in general.
Food is a Proxy for Everything
We are increasingly a society of consumers. We take in and use so much, so quickly, and we do so less and less consciously. We no longer think in terms of the chain of events that goes into what we consume.
We read tens or hundreds of pieces of writing on the web for free each day, with little thought as to how much work it took to put together.
We watch hours of videos each day, for free. We fast forward, rewind, and cycle through lists of videos — paying little attention to what went into each.
We listen to hundreds of audio tracks — songs, podcasts, an audiobooks. We listen at double-speed. We skip around albums. We allow algorithms to show or hide music from us.
All these pieces of content are things that often times took significant effort to make and make available. But the landscape doesn’t allow us to stop to appreciate that. They have become blades of grass on an thousand-acre landscape of ever-sprouting seedlings — growing ever taller.
We come to take these things for granted, and it’s largely because they come to us in a consistent stream. They have become our atmosphere, simply the air we breathe.
And isn’t that much like our relationship with food?
Food is a proxy for so many things we mindlessly and excessively consume. If I can — even for part of one day — curtail the mindless consumption of food, perhaps I can make a dent in other kinds of consumption.
Cultivating the Power of Restraint
The power to do things is actually the least impressive kind of power there is. Now more than ever, there are systems in place that allow us to do more things than ever before.
If we want to communicate a message to a bunch of people right now, we can — right now. If we want to buy something at 2 a.m., we can — and often times, we get it very quickly after buying it. We can do what we want when we want. Doing is not all that impressive, and it takes little power.
What does take real power is restraint — to not do things — especially when we want to do them. Fasting is restraint in action. I do feel hungry, I am confronted with tempting treats and tantalizing entrees. If I can learn to bypass them, I can learn to bypass a lot of tantalizing things, that in the long run, add little value.
Calming the Waters
In the past, when I have refrained from eating for a day, I’ve found myself — at some point during that day — becoming calmer. I don’t feel as pulled in different directions, or as excitable. I feel that calm that I so revere when I see it.
I think that it comes as a result of not having an appetite ruling your thoughts and actions. When hunger has not be satiated, and your body gets the hint, your brain stops craving, stops longing. You can move on to other things. You become calm. It’s pretty cool.
I did this yesterday, for the first time in years, and I liked it enough that I will keep doing. It’s just one more little thing that I’ve found to push me onto a better path. Little, but effective.