This week has been slow and long, and exactly what I needed to get my bearings back after a long workation-turned-holiday. The Holy Week is the only time I like Manila, because the streets are practically empty, with regional immigrants returning home to the provinces and locals vacationing elsewhere. Even social media was quieter, a little less agitated, a little more sensitive. In the religion I was raised in, this is typically a period for fasting and reflecting on our faith. While I no longer follow Catholic traditions regularly, my core beliefs are unwavering and I still find value in these 2 rituals.
Some people say fasting is an outdated form of sacrifice, no longer relevant in today’s society. (Just a few days ago, I reread a similar entry I wrote in 2009 on the same issue!) Perhaps to some, who don’t necessarily enjoy food (I know of people who eat purely for sustenance ? and I cannot imagine how that must be like), it isn’t a challenge. But for me and I’m sure many others, food is the ultimate temptation. I admit, when I like something, I want more, and I can eat to the point of gluttony. That classic “seafood/see food” joke? Yeah, that was made for someone like me. So passing up food for hours is no walk in the park, but that’s beside the point. Through the years, I realized that what mattered was the intention. Why do it?
When I was younger, I used to fast and abstain merely as a form of compliance to doctrine. Back in college, I gave up soft drinks for the entire Lenten season. It coincided with the first time I went on tour with my choir, and the first country we went to was the US, “the land of plenty.” Even when there were more bottles of Coke than water served at every reception, I was determined to fulfill my promise to stay away from the stuff. In retrospect, it was driven by a need to, for lack of a better term, “unlock an achievement.” At the time, I found it meaningless, a blind obedience to what I’d been taught and nothing more. I was told that in doing so, I made myself a better Christian, so I did it.
In the past few years that I’ve been practicing it though, I’ve focused on deliberate mindfulness, and every year I gain new insight from the experience.
Here are some I’ve learned:
- I don’t really need much to live. The body can survive on so little, but we always want more because that’s how the world keeps conditioning us: to consume, to have an ever insatiable appetite. This kind of mentality is, upon closer inspection, bordering on hedonistic.
- I’m constantly living with excesses, frivolous over-indulgences. Minimalism is the goal.
- Impulses are unhealthy. Always take the time to consider choices.
- A clean body is a clear mind. I will strive to fill it only with enough and with what’s good for it.
At this phase of my life, my conclusion is this: fasting primes the spirit for reflection. It helps remind me of what it means to deny myself even necessities, humbles me, makes it easy to be grateful.
Remember when I said I gave up soft drinks until Easter some years ago? It prompted me to remove it from my lifestyle after that. By giving it up, even temporarily for a time, it became evident that I could do without it. After years of resisting meat, (compounded by my growing awareness for animals’ intelligence and emotional capacities), I think I may be ready to cut down the amount in my diet. All these changes, plus the things I’ve learned about myself, make me believe that the entire process also prepares me for my own rebirth. Isn’t that what Easter is about?
Since I wasn’t stuffing my face with food every chance I got, I also got some time on my hands. Thinking about healthier snacks I could have after my fast led me to make this: fiber balls. That’s a nasty name, but they’re good… for the body. I found a recipe for “cookies” (they are not cookies, let’s not blaspheme now) that only used egg, honey, and muesli. I tweaked that by swapping muesli for granola, honey for natural peanut butter, and changed the ratios completely, but followed heat and cook time at 180 C/350 F for 10-12 minutes. Before baking, I topped them with shaved coconut and sesame seeds, too. Happy to report that they’re a good alternative to processed snacks, and can probably kill a sweets craving with 1 or 2.
On Good Friday, I rehearsed mass songs with 3 of my high school constants, in an attempt to resurrect ? a singing group for first Sundays at our parish. We found ourselves discussing faith over pasta, wine, and cheese. It was a relief to hear some of my own questions hashed out, but as adults we wanted better answers because we believed, not because we doubted. We talked about Christ’s passion, finding the essence of his life and death – and consequently, what they meant to us. I opened up, I think for the first time, about how I believe that answers may be found in all God-fearing religions, and not just one. The night wore on, and there were answers, and there were not; but it was good to be looking all the same, and having people to search with.
Today, as we sang for Easter, I felt that I really am about to start a new chapter in my life. I may not be ready, there is no assurance for stability, but didn’t I just establish that I don’t need much? Just enough is enough to live. It’s time to shake off the excesses and live anew.