Day 4 of the one week fast. I think I have gotten over the hump. My housemate told me two days ago that day three was the worst. And I was really irritable yesterday. One thing about the culture in the Central American countries that I have visited, and in many cultures in the world, is that things generally happen slower than they do in the States. Most of the time, I love this. I move slow, and I am a generally patient person, without much sense of urgency. However, when it comes to feeding time, I get a bit touchy. Now multiply that by 100 (at least), because I have not had solid food since Saturday, and touchy becomes bitchy. Though to be fair, I mostly internalized it, aside from saying “where’s my soup?!”, and “your friend told me he makes a really good banana smoothie and then I just saw him wander off and I still have no smoothie, 25 minutes later.” So that’s pretty mild. But inside I have been seething a bit. And not just with the food, but noises and general signs of life going on around me. So I am noticing that cultural differences that I usually find charming – little tuk tuks buzzing about, laissez-faire food service workers, SO MANY DOGS EVERYWHERE barking and fighting, and people milling about totally chill as if they don’t notice these distractions – these little things are bugging the shit out of me.
I’ve also felt a bit wired and off-kilter at times; giggling over nothing, feeling nervous energy, and making spazzy little movements more than usual. I have a little bit less of a filter in speaking my mind (a side-effect which I have really been enjoying, as I think this is an improvement over my usual way of communicating). I feel more energy. I feel more alive. I feel less creepy self-consciousness obstructing my view of what I really am. I think this is something to do with being in a more raw state. And I think it has something to do with being happier, lighter, and clearer. I seem to be taking things less seriously the past few days than I had in the previous two weeks. My head is clearer. I am not over-thinking things as much. Maybe my brain is conserving energy to only be used when it’s really necessary and not wasting the precious energy it has on obsessing over nothing. It feels great! It makes me wonder how it must feel to be always hungry. To not have the luxury of being able to spend time and energy worrying about shit that doesn’t matter – “white people problems”, I think this experience has recently been labeled (not that there aren’t hungry white people, but you get the idea). I feel lucky that my problems are largely ones that I create in my mind, which means I have every power to change them. The same can’t be said for people that don’t have access to food, water, healthcare, basic human needs. And maybe this is why people who have so little often have so much more in terms of what is important. As people that comes from cultures of abundance (and waste :(), there is so much to learn from people that don’t have this experience. This idea is a big part of the basic concept of a project near and dear to my heart, the Stone Soup Cafe, in Greenfield, MA. The idea behind this pay what you can community meal is that creating a space where we can share food, experiences, life stories, creativity, creates a sense of community. And a fundamental piece is understanding the reciprocity of all human interaction. That there are not people that “need help”, and people that “help others”, but that we instead all having something to teach and something to learn, something to give and something to receive. If you have been moved by this fast I am doing, and interested in supporting good nutrition and education, you may want to consider donating, volunteering, dining at, or in some way getting involved with the Stone Soup Cafe. It’s a really beautiful offering, and is serving as a model for other similarly run cafes.
So yeah, just because a place or group of people may not afford the luxuries that we know, it does not mean that we need to save them. I read an article recently about volunteering, and how it is frequently more beneficial to the volunteer than to the people receiving the service. I’ve encountered a lot of programs down here that seem to be set up just because people want to go to a place and feel like they are helping. And they don’t always do anything really useful other than take money from volunteers and creating jobs to keep them busy. Not all places, but a lot. I have learned to be wary. And also, I feel that. As a traveler I do want to find ways to be of service, and I am getting better at investigating this drive. It is almost never without a selfish side, which I think is fine. Serving, learning, and seeking out new experiences are all things that will make us better people, which is ultimately better for everyone. If we are not honest with ourselves, though, we can easily fall into an ego trap that we are someone’s savior. I think the best we can genuinely offer is an authentic human exchange with another person, and to approach this exchange with openness to both teach and learn. Or maybe neither, maybe just to laugh and be with each other, and close the gap a little bit between two people from two different cultures, so that we feel a little less alien to each other.
I am feeling so many positive effects of this fast, and I know that I am doing it for myself. Supporting the Nutrition Center Konojel, in San Marcos, Guatemala, is an awesome added benefit, but if I let myself off the hook of self-reflection by saying I am supporting a good cause, I have done my job, than I miss an opportunity. For me, part of understanding the need for better nutrition education and food availability, is experiencing hunger and desire for food. I have never done this before. As much as I try to contemplate where my food comes from, and feel gratitude for all the work and love that goes into food production, and for my ability to have access to it, I often take this blessing for granted. As much as I can never understand what it really feels like to starve, it is a small peek into the window to another way of experiencing this world – a way that is the norm for so many people.
One thing I haven’t been feeling much of is hungry, so that’s interesting. The cravings have been coming from my mind, not my body. I am not lacking for nutrition. As I said, I feel lighter, more energized, and happier. I am learning that I don’t actually need all that my brain tells me I need. And it is really yelling at me sometimes now, especially when I smell something amazing, my mind screams “put that in my belly right now!” While my body is just like “chill, man. I feel great, and if you put a whole loaf of bread in this body I am gonna feel a whole lot worse”. But if I hadn’t committed to this fast, my mind would always win that battle. And after this fast, I will continue to eat things just because they make me happy and because they taste good (though I will try to find balance between tasting good and being good for me, which actually isn’t very hard). But the difference is that now I will have the knowledge that when I eat from my mind instead of my body, I am feeding something different. I am not sustaining my body, but satisfying a desire. Sometimes it is an unhealthy desire to “fill the void”, which we all do with so many things – food, drugs, alcohol, tv, sex, reading, the list goes on. And sometimes it will be a healthy desire to enjoy the delicious fruits of the Earth and find joy in this blessed taste bud-filled body that has been put on this Earth full of foody goodness to enjoy. And I will have more gratitude that I am so damn lucky to be able to fulfill that desire whenever it arises. Also, I will know that there is a difference between these needs, because I will have experienced how little I can eat and not feel actual hunger. This can be applied to any of these things we fill the void with/enjoy: we can smoke a joint, have a drink, watch a show, read a book, have some sex, eat a meal, and it can be a beautiful healthy experience of how it feels to be alive. And we can partake in any of these things and if we are doing to to fulfill a need for something else – some emotional or spiritual need, then we are not really getting what we need, and we are mindlessly throwing things into the void that ultimately make it bigger and take us further from actually meeting our needs. I hope this experience can help me differentiate between hunger and an emotional need, and to start to make more conscious choices about why I do what I do. I feel like this is a good place to start, and changing a relationship to food is really hard. It’s not something we can avoid, unless you’re one of those people that can subsist on only water, or only sun, or something crazy like that – of which I have no interest because I love food. And so because we have to put it in our bodies to live, we will always have a relationship to it. I want very much to have a conscious relationship with food, and for the past 7 years or so I have been moving towards that. It’s definitely a lifelong challenge, and a worthwhile one, and I ultimately feel better and better the more healthy my diet becomes. But I am also seeking balance and I have no interest in depriving myself of foods I really love, because some fad diet or a group of people with different body types tells me that it’s not good for me. I have too much appreciation for food, and too much gratitude for the abundance in my life to look in the face of a delicious offering and say “No, I SHOULDN’T eat that”. Maybe I don’t want to eat it, and thhat’s ok. But SHOULDN’T? Based on something outside of my body saying “no I don’t want that?” I have no interest in that. I just want to listen to my body. I just want to be conscious. And on Sunday when I finish this fast, I am going to consciously chow on some bread and cheese and veggies and hummus and ice cream. And I am probably going to be more grateful for that meal than I’ve ever been in my life. YES. I am so down with the fasts.