Fasting as a path to maturity

6 minute read

Currently, I am reading the book Brave New World from Aldous Huxley. The book, written between the first and second world war, describes a utopian world-order based on optimizing well-being. It is a world where there is no more aging or sickness. Children are conditioned at a young age through sleep-hypnosis to find satisfaction only in the job they are pre-destined to do. Sexual desires are supposed to be capitalized immediately on the people around you. Monogamy is outlawed, as it might create too intense emotions between two individuals. For the same reason, babies are no longer born, but bread in-vitro in ‘hatcheries’.  This way, individuals no longer have a family to feel strongly about. Neither is there any need to mourn deceased individuals, as society can always breed a new one. And whenever anybody still manages to feel bad, society encourages them to ‘go on a holiday’ by taking a tablet of Soma, a drug causing you to pass out in a pleasant hallucination for a single day, without any negative side effects.

However, some individuals in this world are not conditioned as well as others, and start asking themselves the question: is being in a state of perfect well-being really what life is all about?

And I think we can answer this question fairly easy. When reading this first paragraph, did you feel a rapturous joy and deep longing to life in this hypothetic society? Or did this description make you feel slightly uneasy, like something is terribly wrong on some deeper level? My guess is that you choose the second option, just like me.

“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”
― Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

It is interesting how, as a society, the western world has been slowly moving toward the world described in Huxley’s book. When we are looking for social confirmation, we can post something on social media and see the likes flooding in. When we have a sexual desire, we can watch our fantasies being playout out in pornography. As a society we have been pushing to make ‘open relationships’ more and more socially accepted, spreading out our emotional connection (and the risk of negative emotions) over multiple people. And the use of psychoactive drugs to distract ourselves from our everyday problems has never been higher. Yet, somehow, all of these development cause us to slowly lose something very fundamental. We are not teaching each other the value of fasting.

Emptiness by Albert György

When I talk about fasting, this technically only means to abstain from eating for some period of time. But I actually mean to expand on the concept of fasting. We can abstain from talking, from sleeping, from sexual contact, from drugs. We can even make a resolution to abstain from engaging with thoughts, from holding other people responsible for our emotions or to abstain from getting distracted. Whether we are successful or not doesn’t even matter, as long as we have the honest intention to abstain from these things. And every time we have given in to our impulses anyway, we can simply start again.

Some of these concepts might sound a bit far-fetched to put in the context of fasting. But I have a good reason to do so. To fast really means to abstain from giving into your impulses. Not because you are not able to give into your impulses, but because you choose to not give into your impulses. It is to resist your impulses using nothing more than your intrinsic discipline. Fasting has the association of abstaining for some higher purpose. It has a sort of noble feeling to it. It is a concept we are all familiar with and respect, in the context of abstaining from food. So why not extend the use of this word to these other concepts?

At this point, I would like to link fasting to becoming emotionally mature. It is not hard to argue that a big part of emotional maturity is to learn how to resist to one’s impulses. A parent can save her children a lot of harm, by having the self-control to not buy that new designer furniture, and instead saving the money for her kids’ education. A lover can save his partner a lot of emotional hassle by learning how to abstain from his own sexual desires when the moment calls for it.

And most importantly, you yourself can become bigger and brighter than you could ever imagine, if you just learn how to hold your ground when you stare your own discomfort dead in the eyes. When you learn to see these nagging, obnoxious impulses that you have been trying so hard to get rid of. That you have been trying to stuff away in the dusty corners of your being. And when you recognize these desires as the internal cry for attention that they are. A cry from some part of yourself that is not strong enough (yet!) to carry this discomfort without help.

Only then will you be able to approach your own impulses, your own unwanted desires, with a gentle half smile. With a quiet confidence, that needs no affirmation from anybody. You will learn to approach them as if you would a child. As someone you are responsible for helping. You will learn the true meaning of ‘being strong’, by enduring that what makes you feel weak. Strength is not the domain of bravura and aggression and big muscles. (OK, maybe big muscles have something to do with strength…) Strength is to not run away from your own weak spots. Strength is to have the courage to face your own shadow.

“Anyone can hide. Facing up to things, working through them, that’s what makes you strong.”
― Sarah Dessen

Screenshot 2019-10-28 at 22.04.10
Freedom by Vasyl Khodakivskyi

This is what a disciplined practice of fasting will bring you. Identify the desires you mindlessly find yourself giving into, and just try to fast from them for a few days. Are you feeling frustrated with sleeping poorly? Try to skip a night, without any drugs or other aid. Having trouble holding back from fast food? What happens when you simply don’t eat for a day (or two)? You can view this as an exploratory game. And once you get accustomed with the strength that this practice will unquestionably bring you. Once you get comfortable with the insistent feeling of your own desires, without satisfying them. Then you will experience real freedom. The freedom to choose to do the things that you really want to do. To not be a mere slave to your every desire. And in this process, you might learn to find a mode in between fasting and gratifying your needs. You will learn the power of a deep self-care, without spoiling yourself.

Whenever you feel a lack of motivation to take good care of yourself. Whenever your life is slowly steering into the path of giving into your every desire. Think about that Soma-driven, infantile society of Brave New World, and the revulsion you feel against that world. Give yourself the respect you deserve and say ‘no’ to your impulses once in a while. Stay strong.

“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”
― Albert Camus


One thought on “Fasting as a path to maturity

  1. Nice article Jeroen,

    It goes into basically willpower as the supreme resource for controlling your own impulses. In the process of which, you make yourself and those around you benefit. However, research has shown that willpower is a finite resource. For instance having low blood sugar can negatively impact it. Furthermore, it is likely that there are individual differences in the amount of willpower. How, in your opinion, could individuals be more likely to control themselves even in such circumstances?


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