This past Monday was Yom Kippur, and I fasted for the first time in a few years. I did not fast to absolve the sins of the past year, but to practice discipline and to experiment with sustenance. I believe that the abjuration of food for a day is a reminder for how good it is to have food. Without sheds perspective within.
The idea of fasting is interesting, especially because some form of asceticism is evident throughout religions. Christians absolve for lent and Jews and Muslims fast on Yom Kippur and Ramadan, respectively.
During the fast, I turned off all of my electronics. I didn’t check my email or listen to music. I spent the day walking the streets of Paris and reading in various gardens. And it was good.
I walked through the Mosque by my house, then along the Seine to Sainte Chapelle. Wander weak from walking without food, I spent 2 hours sitting in the cathedral, admiring the Gothic arches and incredible stained glass. I walked through the Jardin of Tuileries then up the Champs Elysées. When I couldn’t stand the traffic anymore, I wander walked along the side streets towards the Arc de Triumph.
I was hyper sensitive to smells and sensations during my fast. I’m not sure what was more disturbing, the pungent stench of urine underneath the bridges or the sweet smells emanating from creperies spotted around the city.
During a fast, the hunger pains come and go, but thirst remains. Its difficult to go the entire day without water. It wasn’t really that difficult to go without food for a day. Sure, it would be nice to eat, and it might lift the cloud of disorientation, but I wasn’t preoccupied by it. In fact, there was a point in the afternoon where I felt entirely past hunger.
The purpose of fasting is for that moment, the moment of realization that while we need the material for sustenance, that’s all it is, sustenance. We’re so preoccupied with counting calories and worrying about the difference between saturated vs. monosaturated fast (the former is in butter & red meat, the latter in olive oil & avocados) that the purpose of food is forgotten. The purpose of food, and of everything else, is to enjoy.
I had a lovely break-fast with some friends here. Its amazing how your body can adapt in just a single day. I broke the fast with two figs and two glasses of water, which filled my shrunken stomach. About 30 minutes later, real hunger set in. It was by far the most hungry I felt the entire day, not during the fast but once the fast was broken. Luckily, there were piles of bagels, lox, challah, hummus, and kugel. You can take the Jew out of New York…
Since the fast, I’ve been appreciating food. And it is good.