In the practice of many religions there is something called a Fast. A strict fast would be eating and drinking nothing at all but usually not for a long time.
What is often practiced is a fast from dusk till dawn, to make ready to partake in a Holy Mystery or Sacrament. In post-modern times fasting has become less of a norm in “Western” nations, but is still a living part of many spiritual paths.
Fasting can be an element of repentance for sins, seeking to be enlightened with “heavenly” wisdom or making ready to take part in a religious ritual. There are also medical reasons for fasting, such as a blood test.
In 2021 most of us would have to look at fasting from a medical perspective first, to be aware of the physical reasons for this practice.
There are those who would think of fasting merely as some kind of masochism, or self-punishment, and in that frame of mind, it’s exactly when fasting can be harmful.
Let us look at it from a perspective that most of us can understand. When I have eaten a heavy meal, I am less mobile, and less able to get up and be physically active, along with being less alert.
I’m weighed down by what I have consumed. When I eat light meals with less sugar or fat etc., I will often feel more energetic and just downright healthy! This reality, which many of us have experienced, is part of the idea behind fasting.
Also in this category is abstaining from specific foods, or eating a specific kind of diet. Some will eat only nuts and fruit for instance, and in other cases folks will eat only fish and seafood for protein. In any of these situations, there is a deliberateness that is the basic discipline of fasting or abstinence.
Some of us will make a point of “going to the gym” three times a week to keep in top physical shape. A few of us are “religious” about it in that we won’t miss a chance to work out, as our level of fitness and health depend on it.
This principle is the main idea behind fasting. My spiritual health (many call this psychological) needs to be cared for and I should have regular practices or a routine to do this. How many of us, for instance, simply suppress feelings or thoughts only to have them come back in a wave of passion in which we lose control of ourselves?
In these situations, we are no longer acting intelligently or on principle, and can do harm to ourselves and others. The idea of fasting is tied up with the belief that as intelligent and “wise” human beings, we have the responsibility not to indulge our whims and shifting moods, but struggle to live on a
level where we choose thoughtfully to do things that are intelligent and helpful.