A dear friend suggested to me a book titled 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. Now, I’m the type of person who is always currently reading about 5 books and has 20 more in her Amazon wish list. Because of this, I’m not particularly likely to add to the backlog based on a single suggestion. To top it off, this book is strongly Christian, which is usually an instant no for me. But this friend is a very special friend. I very much admire her, so I decided to pick it up from the library and give it a go.
Actually, the Christian foundation of the book doesn’t bother me at all. The writer, Jen Hatmaker, and I share many values, we just use different words and metaphors. The premise of the book is that the author is disgusted with our wasteful consumer culture of excess, her own lifestyle included and decides to do something about it. She often returns to the simple and compassionate life that Jesus led as example. Honestly, it doesn’t matter what religion you follow (or not), or whether you believe Jesus was the son of God or just a man, anyone can agree that the man was a righteous dude. We have a lot to learn from all the spiritual leaders.
Hatmaker decides that she is going to tackle 7 areas of excess in her life, one month at a time: food, clothes, possessions, media, waste, spending, and stress. It’s fun watching the spiritual awakenings that come along with her journey. I haven’t finished the book, but I have finished the chapter on food, and it was inspiring enough to want to try this myself. After some thinking, I went with a slightly different plan.
Hatmaker’s fasting plan was to eat only 7 foods for the entire month. All she could drink was water. The members of her “council,” those helping her and governing her choices, participated in a different way, opting to eat a traditional diet from 7 poor countries, a few days for each country. I decided to not limit my drinks and to eat only rice, lentils, dairy without other foods added, spices and salt, fruits, and vegetables (unadulterated). I will do this for 30 days. Including entire food groups means my diet is not nearly as restricted as Hatmaker’s, but it’s still quite restricted for me. I have the added struggle that for whatever reason the only food that truly satiates my hunger is wheat, which is not an allowed food, and that I’m truly and utterly addicted to sugar, also not allowed.
I’ve attempted fasts and restriction diets many, many times in the past. However those were all different in one way – they were self-centered. I tried them to improve my health, identify allergies and sensitivities, lose weight, break my sugar addiction, etc., and I’ve failed at every single one. But I’ve never attempted a fast for spiritual purposes. Interestingly, it has been much easier than all the others. I did leave myself quite a lot of options, but I don’t think it’s that. I think it’s precisely because I’m not doing it for selfish reasons. It’s kind of like how quitting smoking when pregnant is much easier for many women. They are quitting for the child, not themselves. Maybe it’s a lack of self-compassion that causes this paradox, or maybe it’s because of something deeper. Maybe the best things simply cannot come from the ego or anything to do with the concept of self. In Buddhist philosophy, self doesn’t even exist. We are all one; everything is connected. We’re all made of the same recycled atoms and energy from which everything is made, and we’re constantly exchanging them.
This is also my first attempt at a fast after traveling to India, where one can freely witness palpable hunger, starvation. Where you can’t travel on a highway for more than 20 minutes and not see a slum nestled atop a 3-foot layer of garbage with houses built of garbage and children and cows alike rummaging through looking for food. This a place where hungry people are not just malnourished from eating junk or missing a meal once in a while, but where people are wasting away. There are not food pantries on every corner. Street vendors will mix actual cement into their recipes. People with money are overweight and people without money are thin and getting thinner. I can imagine the thoughts running through some of their minds as they witnessed this white girl going for a run, wasting all the energy I consumed, because I over-consumed. I don’t just over-consume food. Like most Americans I over-consume many things: energy, water, resources. Just typing that makes me cringe.
I’ve already been eliminating a lot of excess from my life. I’ve been purging things that I’ve been saving in order to prevent waste (e.g. old clothes that can be upcycled, books that might be read again someday, etc.). I’ve also been purging many things that were causing busy-ness and taking time away from the things I truly value in life. I cannot stress to you how valuable this purge has been. Our society really values busy-ness and constant chasing some ever-elusive goal lately. I got sucked into that monster for a long time. But as alluded in this post, happiness doesn’t come from any of that, it can only come from within. No amount of junk, money, food choices, activities, or career chasing can make you happy. In fact, focusing on those things will make it even harder to find that happiness trying to breathe underneath it all. As I remove things from the dog pile that was suffocating my introspection and happiness, I’ve found gratitude, and that’s where it is.
I’ll be journaling a lot about this experience, and will try to follow up on this blog at least once with my results and insights. I’m going into this expecting nothing, planning only to keep my heart and soul open and to learn. A huge thank you to Beth for suggestion the book and to Jen Hatmaker for inspiring me.