|Refrigerator and Cecelia with a fake smile|
Monday, July 28, 2014
TRYING A WEEK OF RAMADAN
This is me last Thursday in front of my refrigerator thinking about food (audible sigh). I decided to try fasting and meditation for the last week of Ramadan–the Muslim holy month of praying and abstinence from food and water from sunup to sundown. It’s a moveable calendar event that just ended. This year it went from June 28 to July 28.
Why did I do this? As an artist I’m interested in discovering aspects of “the Self”, and who I really am. I’ve explored thoughts and feelings, my face and body in paintings, photos, performance art, videos and fabric work. See http://www.ceceliakane.com/.
Ramadan is a regimen for intensive mind, spirit and bodywork through prayer and renunciation. I’m not interested in the overt religious teachings at Ramadan, but I thought such extreme fasting might provide a structure for engendering a break-through in knowing myself.
Here’s what I discovered:
Did I have a breakthrough in knowing myself? Yes. I am humbled by the experience, and compassionate toward Muslims who can maintain the fast for a whole month, and also towards the poor who regularly go hungry. This fast was suffering. I needed a like-minded community to weather this storm.
Am I the food and water I consume? Surprisingly yes! Lack of food and water made me a different person, and a shriveled, tired body. I was so hungry, my stomach seemed to collapse, which made eating and drinking at nighttime difficult. My mind went fuzzy on Thursday, and I even had trouble finding the correct words when speaking. I was definitely dehydrated, even after drinking as much water as I could at the start of daylight. Thursday night and Friday I felt my heart flutter a bit in my chest. Wow!
I was whiny, cranky and an obsessive clock-watcher, continuously calculating how many more hours to go before sundown.
What is my relationship to food and water?-I discovered I pepper my normal non-fasting day with little rituals around eating and drinking. When I finish a chore, I treat myself to a coffee break. When I meditate I have a glass of water by my side. When I read, I’ll bring a snack to my chair to munch on. In the evening I rest with a glass of wine. Without the props, I felt adrift and angry.
Can I look at suffering with curiosity, not frustration? – Not really. I tried being an observer of myself, and meditating calmly on my bodily sensations, but honestly, I found it almost impossible to maintain any concentration during meditation. My brain was mush.
Can I do normal work or exercise without water and whining?-Yes I could do the work if I slowed down, but I was whining to the four walls a lot. Work kept me busy and not self-centered. I got a lot of art done. Apparently I spend a considerable amount of time on food prep and cleanup. With the fast, I had time on my hands.
Can the experience of suffering break down walls of self-centeredness, and fear? - A week of fasting is not long enough to break down any walls, but I recognized something. It occurred to me that my normal task-orientation, and absorption with time, efficiency and speed might blind me to alternate approaches to art and life. Can I modify this habit and see what comes up? “Food for thought” (pun intended.) This was an ah-ha moment.
What about my caffeine habit? –I’m addicted! Drinking one cup of coffee before sunrise did not suffice to carry me through 24 hours. (I did not want to drink coffee at sundown for fear of insomnia). As a result, I lugged a pressurized big-head around on top of my shoulders all day and night throughout the fast. My brain felt too big for my skull.
Is this even healthy for a woman about to turn 68? -No definitely not. My difficulty thinking by the end of each day, the fluttery heart by the end of the week, my perpetually tense stomach, and the lack of concentration indicate dehydration with a potential for some bodily harm. I also lost sleep. I set my alarm each day for 4:50 am to eat breakfast before daybreak which is 5:20-ish this far north in Vermont. Sundown was around 8:30.
Finally, could I even do this for a week? I completed six full days, not seven, and altered the water rule by the end of the week. I drank one glass of water on Wednesday, went back to no drinks on Thursday, but on Friday and Saturday drank water throughout the day to combat the health problems that were cropping up. This cleared up the lack of brainpower and the fluttery heart, but not the caffeine headache. That raged on.
Am I glad I did this? Yes. I discovered I’m not the strong, independent person I thought I was. Body chemistry is a big part of who I am. Aging is the slow process of the body’s deterioration. We live and we die. All the more reason to enjoy each moment, like the glorious taste of water and the bliss and flavors of food. Time to slow down in general, glory in art making, the beauty of nature, and help others.