I am so hungry: hungry for human attention, for satisfaction, for 6 course meals with elegant wine pairings, for stimulating conversation and interesting works of art. I want to be touched. And feel sunlight on my skin. I long for sounds that speak to me: music that vibrates my bones and songs that make me want to dance. I am hungry for sleep that carries me deep into the world of dreams. I crave power. I demand knowledge. I want to know what it is like to experience expanded states of consciousness, to surrender to rapture and to realize enlightenment. I want hours and hours of time to myself.
Right now I’m on day four of the Master Cleanse. I don’t always make it, but every year I try for 10 days of fasting, sipping on lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper. It is for health reasons: I want to give my digestive system a rest, shed a pound or two and cleanse my liver and kidneys. More importantly though, it teaches me about my hungers.
One the first day, Mark is up before me and I wake to the smell of rich, dark coffee. My familiar morning ritual beckons and already I start bargaining, “Maybe coffee would be OK. It isn’t really a food.”
I don’t stop trying to wiggle out of my commitment. “I can’t be going to work with my stomach growling”, or “I will be in a seminar all day and everyone will be eating lunch together. How can I not?”
I know a woman who has a mindful eating practice in which she observes her eating behavior as a form of meditation. I try to adopt this practice but it is really difficult. I eat to socialize, I eat to escape, to comfort myself, to distract. Often my eating is so unconscious, I don’t know what exactly I’ve eaten until after the fact. “Did we really just finish that whole bag of chips?”
For me, when I’m not eating is the best time to be mindful about my relationship to food. There is a lost period of time between when I crave a piece of chocolate and when it finds its way into my mouth, melting and giving me pleasure. During a fast, that lost period of time unfolds and deep longings reveal themselves. When I can look them in the eye, I feel the stirrings of my own dormant creative potential.
According to the Buddha, the Middle Way is a life lived between the extremes of self-denial and self-indulgence. To fast is extreme, I know. (and I don’t recommend it without sober self assessment and/or a naturopath’s guidance.) but it helps me to frame my own middle way. It reminds me to hold sacred not only that which feeds me, but she who feeds.