Saturday, March 07, 2009

Spring Cleaning for the Soul: The Baha'i Fast

From March 2nd to 20th Baha'is observe the Fast by refraining from eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset. It is also a time for increased spiritual reflection and meditation, a sort of Spring cleaning for the soul.

Baha'u'llah writes in one of the prayers for the Fast: Thou hast endowed every hour of these days with a special virtue, inscrutable to all except Thee, Whose knowledge embraceth all created things.

Now that we have completed the first week of the Fast, I thought I would take some time to think about what some of these special virtues might be. During the Fast I learn once again to take pleasure in the simple things of life. A delicious meal and the company of friends is one of the greatest sources of happiness during this time of year. I no longer take for granted the bounty of having a well prepared meal and a full stomach.

During the rest of the year, I usually make a quick variety of simple meals, a veggie burger, a bean burrito, a bowl of rice and beans with greens. But during the Fast I want to make sure I have a nice meal, so I actually pour through my pile of cookbooks once again and spend a little more time in the kitchen. Last week I made some aloo gobi (Indian potatoes and cauliflower), and Cuban rice and beans. This week I'm making Hungarian eggplant, and barbequed tofu with sweet potatoes and greens. Surprisingly, this time of restraint becomes a time for creativity and celebration.

But, I suppose the pleasure one feels at the end of the Fast day is not the whole point. During this time, unlike other times of year, I allow myself to feel genuine hunger. I cannot pretend to know how debilitating poverty and hunger must be, because I know at the end of the day all my needs will be satisfied and there will be plenty to eat. But I can begin to understand at least a little bit what hunger does to vitality, and motivation, and even mood. To add uncertainty on top of that must be devastating. The Fast begins to awaken one's compassion for those who suffer, even though we are only experiencing just a tiny measure of this.

The Fast also helps me to realize that conditions of life are transient. I find that my mood certainly varies depending on the state of my stomach. I also discover that emotions come and go, and that if I simply wait out the times of low energy and vitality that happen around lunchtime, in the afternoon I'll feel differently, and after the evening meal my outlook changes yet again! Isn't that true of our lives as well, a temporary condition can change our entire viewpoint? In the larger scope of our lives Baha'u'llah tells us: Should prosperity befall thee, rejoice not, and should abasement come upon thee, grieve not, for both shall pass away and be no more.

During the Fast I am also profoundly aware of the cycles of nature. These three weeks are a time of great transition. Sunrise is earlier and earlier each day, and the hours of daylight are increasing each day. The reawakening of Spring is beginning.

The Fast also helps us feel a sense of community. We all are partaking of the same experience. Sometimes we have gatherings and dinners in the evening. I even read blogs by fellow Baha'is who speak of their Fasting experience. Amy and Leila over at Nineteen Days share photographs every evening. Rainn Wilson has "twittered" about the Fast. And, on a more serious note, word has come from Iran that the Baha'is unjustly imprisoned in Iran are still managing to observe the Fast.

Most significantly, the Fast is a spiritual time, a time for spending a little more time reflecting and meditating, a time for a renewed emphasis on refining one's character. The Fast is "essentially a period of meditation and prayer, of spiritual recuperation, during which the believer must strive to make the necessary readjustments in his inner life, and to refresh and reinvigorate the spiritual forces latent in his soul. Its significance and purpose are, therefore, fundamentally spiritual in character." (Shoghi Effendi).

Path leading to the Bahá’í House of Worship in New Delhi, India. Reprinted with permission of the Bahá’í International Community from Baha'i Media Bank

Tonight our community had a guest speaker followed by a potluck dinner. Dr. Kendal Williams spoke about evolution and the Baha'i Faith, which is a favorite topic of mine. I was especially interested to hear him speak about Charles Darwin, since I have been reading about him lately.

Baha'i teachings state that the potential reality of man was always present in Creation, but the physical form developed through various stages. All of Creation is always evolving, life is never static. The appearance of mankind meant that for the first time, nature could reflect upon itself! Consciousness itself evolves, and society and civilization grow and change and progress through ages and centuries. Naturally, even religion itself evolves. The next phase in our religious evolution must be an acknowledgment of the unity of mankind and the interconnectedness of all peoples.

After this illuminating conversation, the sun had finally set, and we had a wonderful meal and enjoyed each other's companionship. Another Fast day has come to an end.

(p.s. I saw a shooting star on my way home this evening. I made a wish of course!)



At 4:04 PM, Blogger Druzelle Cederquist said...

Thanks for sharing your fasting experience, Anne. I enjoy finding out what other Baha'is are doing at this time. And what a beautiful blog altogether! Hope to hear more form you. All the best for an enriching fast.

At 8:38 PM, Blogger Anne said...

Thank you so much Druzelle! I love feeling part of a community during this time, and this includes an online community also!

At 11:34 AM, Blogger Racn4acure said...

This was all very interesting, Anne. Some great food for thought, no pun intended. I love the increasing light this time of year as we head towards the equinox, although with the time change, I continue to do early morning runs in total darkness. May your wish come true.

At 8:57 PM, Blogger Anne said...

Hi Art, Yes, the light really does change quickly this time of year. It's very noticeable. Must be hard to get up and run in the dark, I admire your determination! Soon though you'll be running in the early morning light!

At 1:01 PM, Blogger Nikhil said...

Thanks for sharing your reflections - you totally echo a lot of my thoughts about the fast, and expressed them beautifully. It is indeed interesting to see how physical fasting affects different people different ways - i for example, for the most part feel more alert and energized through the fast, and end up being more productive! Which is definitely a good, if surprising, side effect :)

At 2:43 PM, Blogger Anne said...

Hi Nikhil,
Yes, we all have different ways of reacting to the Fast! I have to plan for decreased energy, but another side benefit to me is a little bit more detachment during this time from things that might normally concern me. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

At 2:55 PM, Blogger 8&20 said...

Hi Anne,

Nikhil's blog post directed me to yours, and I love the way you express yourself, and quote others so relevantly. I found your writing reflective and insightful, leading to more reflection within.

I'm not following the Baha'i fast, but I do believe in fasting for the good of the body and spirit in general, and I try to do it once in a week. I've certainly experienced a heightened awareness of the senses, and over time, a greater sense of detachment.

Good luck for the rest of this 'spring-cleaning' period, and I hope you continue to gain from it :).


At 4:25 PM, Blogger Anne said...

Hi Neha,
Thanks so much for stopping by, I'm glad you enjoyed my blog. Yes, fasting is common in many cultures and religions. Spring also seems to be a common time for fasting, maybe in anticipation of the renewal of Spring and the new cycle of seasons.

At 12:49 PM, Blogger Bright Butterfly said...

Dear Anne,

Thank you for your reflections on fasting -- you have captured so much of what I have been experiencing and feeling during this period. This is actually my first Bahá'í fast, and I have asked myself throughout what it means to spiritually fast. Your post brings me some sense of reassurance and clarity that spiritual fasting is not necessarily a mystical feeling of transcendence, but rather also comes in the heightened consciousness that you have described about so many aspects of life we otherwise take fore granted. Thank you, Casia

At 8:25 PM, OpenID intenselychill said...

Hi! I liked your fasting post too. Talking about the fast is trendy for Baha'i bloggers right now :)

At 8:54 PM, Blogger Anne said...

Thank you Casia, I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Best wishes on your first Fast, it's almost Naw Ruz! Yes, I agree, the Fast is the time to be grateful for everyday aspects of life that we take for granted. Each Fast has felt different to me, and each day during the Fast is always a unique experience. It's wonderful to hear other perspectives.

Thank you intenselychill! Yes, the Fast is the latest "buzz" in the Baha'i blogosphere! I love that we can share our experiences! People are surprisingly open, not only about the blessings of the Fast, but also about their struggles. It's great to be part of a supportive community.

At 4:20 PM, Blogger halfpast_Aftachrist said...

I found my way here from Nikhil's blog and I feel incredibly rewarded for having done so. :) Your reflections on the purpose and effects of the fast are truly inspiring and helped me in directing introspection.

At 6:59 PM, Blogger Anne said...

Thank you halfpast_Aftachrist! I'm glad you enjoyed the post. I always like to hear what other Baha'is are experiencing, it really creates a feeling of community.


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