“When you fast the light will illuminate you.” Mahatma Gandhi
In 1985 I was living near the ocean and reading The Essene Gospels of Peace, an ancient manuscript discovered by Edmond Bordeaux Szekely in 1928 languishing in the secret archives of the Vatican in Rome. Written in Aramaic, Szekely translated the manuscript to reveal the teachings of the Essene Brotherhood. It is acknowledged that one of their members was a young Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
I had been fasting on and off for many years already and so I became curious when reading the Gospels about fasting for longer than five or seven days at a time. I felt ready to attempt the ultimate test for dedicated fasters, the 40-day fast. This is based on Jesus’ wanderings in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights without food or water. My plan was to drink fresh vegetable juices supplemented with Spirulina algae on occasion. It was summertime in Florida, too hot to eat much anyway, so perfect for fasting. I continued to work each day and ride my bicycle the 5 miles to work, take walks on the beach, and do my yoga and meditation. In fact, I was amazed at the level of my energy and the calmness of my mind.
After the fourth day I had lost all feelings of hunger and they did not return until the forty-fourth day of the fast. I knew then it was time to return to eating, so I chose a golden red mango, ripe and juicy, and reintroduced my body to the delights of eating once again. Something profound had happened to me during that time of fasting. I knew I had detoxified my body on a very deep level, letting go of chemicals I was sure had been trapped in my vital organs. Mind you, I am from the generation of kids who ran behind the mosquito trucks as they sprayed DDT along the streets in my neighborhood.
But more than that, I came to see my place in the world in a whole new way. I came to understand that we all have a spiritual purpose to fulfill in this lifetime and I could see mine clearly. From that experience I was able to glimpse the path I was to follow and step onto it with confidence and trust. Today I am a master yoga instructor with 30 years’ experience, a holistic health practitioner, a whole-foods chef, and a cooking teacher with a commitment to share my knowledge with those willing to transform their lives for the better.
Mind you, a 40-day fast should not be undertaken without the supervision of a health practitioner and a clear intention as to the purpose of such a fast. I was looking to understand the spiritual significance of Jesus’ denial of food and water. Although I did not place myself under the same conditions as Jesus, nor do I equate myself with this divine teacher, by fasting for 44 days I was able to shift my paradigm away from the craving for food to one of connection to the divine current that feeds us all.
Some religious sects abstain, or are forbidden, from consuming certain foods and drinks; others restrict foods and drinks during their holy days; while still others associate dietary and food preparation practices with rituals of the faith.
The role of fasting in religious practice was seen as a sacrifice from the pleasures of food. It gave the practitioner an understanding of the suffering the poor endure and an appreciation for what one had in one’s life. The body was seen as God’s “temple” and fasting cleared the blood of debris, which helped the mind focus on God. The discipline required for fasting was also a lesson in how to resist temptation.
Some religions believe that restricting certain foods can have a powerful impact on the health of an individual. Vegetarian diets are known to reduce heart disease and promote a longer life expectancy. There are those who point to the book of Genesis as proof that humans should eat a plant-based diet. “And God said: ‘Behold, I have given you every herb-yielding seed which is upon the face of the earth, and every tree that has seed-yielding fruit to you it shall be for food.’ “
Many of our great spiritual leaders used fasting as a tool to inspire and motivate others:
- Prince Gautama became the Buddha after years of fasting and meditation led him to understand that the reason for all suffering is our human attachment to desire, outcome, and pleasure.
- Mahatma Gandhi used fasting as political motivation to move his country towards freedom in a nonviolent way.
- Mother Theresa fasted as a way to give the money she saved on food away to those in dire need. This in turn inspired others to do the same.
- Saints, prophets, and religious people have all used fasting as a sacrifice for prayers to be answered or penance for harm done in the past.
By giving up that which we love so much, the food and drink that sustains our bodies, we are rewarded with the sublime knowledge that the Divine moves through each of us to work in the world.
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Detoxing Your Body, by Delia Quigley