The biggest breakfast I ever managed to consume preceded a very meaningful day for me. As I went through two bowls of cereal, a cup of yogurt, an orange, some dried fruit, a handful of almonds, a giant oatmeal cookie, and three glasses of water, I stared through our kitchen windows at the dark morning, not yet illumined by the sunrise. I was fifteen years old at the time, yet I had been anticipating this day for years.
It was the first of nineteen days when I wouldn’t eat or drink from sunrise to sunset as part of the Baha’i Fast, a fast that I would observe along with millions of other Baha’is around the globe. I knew that fasting was going to teach me a lot, but to be quite honest, on the first day, all that I was focused on discovering was how long I could go without experiencing extreme hunger pangs.
It turns out that fasting really isn’t as difficult as I first suspected. By day ten out of nineteen, I no longer stuffed myself with breakfast food. Suddenly, the experience wasn’t about hunger anymore. It wasn’t just a test to see if I could exhibit detachment. Fasting was a gift. As I went through the day, I was constantly being reminded of my self-assigned duty, and from this came the realization that what is truly beneficial and satisfying isn’t a meal or a drink. Instead, it’s a refreshing smile, the content feeling that comes with an act of kindness, or the richness that seeps from warm conversation.
Last year I fasted for the second time. It was similar to the year before since I answered a million questions about why I wasn’t eating and cheerfully turned down offers of gum, snacks, and pizza. Yet, the experience was, in a way, entirely different. I looked forward to the interrogation and was thrilled when I craved the absence of food during the daytime hours, as opposed to the other way around. I found myself deeply contemplating my future, my actions, and my religion. Basically, I was somehow being swept into a joyous adventure that had nothing to do with what was on the menu.
When I responded to questions about why I wasn’t eating, most people were supportive and interested. However, one of the most exciting parts of my journey was when a friend of mine said more than, “whoa… that’s cool.” Instead, his response was, “I think I’ll try it too.” He did indeed fast for a few days, and I was so inspired by this that it still stands on my top-ten list of meaningful things I’ve seen people do.
This is why I believe in forgoing comfort for a while… to step away from the routines of life and see it from a different angle. If nothing else, it opens up a whole new way of looking at the beauty of dawn and dusk, because during the fast, you’re always watching the sunrise and sunset.
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