By Gina Gaudet
As we enter the season of Lent, let’s look again at fasting. Fasting as in deprivation, as in “giving up” something. Just what I want to think about as I finish off a nice piece of chocolate banana bread and coffee; that mid-morning eat-at-the-desk-while-I-work snack that is oh-so-yummy and – most importantly – makes me happy.
What brought this to mind was a re-read of Peter Wohlleben’s book, The Hidden Life of Trees, which taught me some remarkable principles of nature. The author, a forest management specialist, observes that beech trees living in their mother’s shadow grow very slowly for many decades under the thick forest canopy of mother trees.
In fact, a tree with a trunk less than an inch thick can actually be as old as 80 years! With the limited sun exposure of the low forest floor, these “babies” will continue to be nourished by the mother tree through the fungal root system for those long decades, but will be very limited in opportunities to photosynthesize until that mother tree ages out, weakens or gets sick – perhaps at the ripe old age of over 200 years.
When she finally crashes to the ground, any seedlings not taken with her in her fall will finally gear up their photosynthetic process in order to gain height and girth and become the next generation of beech forest. And they will actually be stronger for their long fast from photosynthesis.
The key to a true fast is the patient inner work. Consider the snowdrops, crocus and daffodils, which emerge from their secret underground, where part of the long winter was spent fasting.
As the air temperature warms the soil, the bulb-feeding and regeneration starts. The inner work is invisible to the eye, but the fruits of that work provide beauty to the eye and hope to the heart. Spring will come! It always has, always will.
The key to success in fasting is the quality of mindfulness. This is the self-awareness that recognizes a challenge, rises to its many fluctuations of feeling and experience, and approaches them with an honorable regard.
It is a willingness to sit with and through those deprivation feelings and see them through to the conclusion of – ultimately – victory over temptation.
As we will explore through our Lenten series, fasting can also be understood as a surrender of habitual feelings, responses and actions which do not serve us well on our soul journey. The same processes can apply – the same focus of attention, regard and full engagement – to the “fasting” process.
The goal is to rise from the fast with a stronger constitution, a solid foundation of mindful engagement and a better quality of life.