Monday, November 27, 2006

Ramadhan: Evaluating One Month of Daytime Fasting

This article is part of The Ramadan Series.

A unique opportunity for a spiritual as well as a nutritional experience. Forced spirituality and the need for rituals.

Concluding the experience of the fasting month of Ramadan, I am trying to evaluate the technical, nutritional experience and the gradual unfolding of the immaterial component.

General observations: Since the eating schedule is coupled to the sun and the sunset in particular, the time of day regains its tangible meaning. Also, the days are becoming shorter during the month. The last day has more than 90 minutes less sun -- and less fasting for that matter -- than the first day. In central Europe, that is.

While I perceived the fasting mainly in daily cycles, a procedural evolution over time, specifically, four phases are easy to identify. The first week of fasting is dealing with the dizzy feeling of thirst and a slight motoric fatigue, especially during the late afternoon hours. Week two successfully concludes the adaptation period with overall well-being setting in. The third week represents the peak of forced spirituality. Finally, week four consists of mostly hunter and gatherer thinking, built on top of the fasting. The experience eventually gave rebirth to the hunter inside me.

Week one is best and not surprisingly summed up with "daily thirst." The thirst-induced dizziness is interesting as it is naturally and consciously felt and experienced as a spiritual phenomenon -- you get what you expect. On the first day of the month, I broke my -- up to that day -- strict vegan diet and ate fish. I rotated high carb and high protein days with a ratio of roughly 1:3, one day on high carbs and three days on high protein. In fact, the meals consisted of more carbs on the carbohydrate days while leaving the proteins approximately at the same level, all instinctively and based on intuition, without actually measuring anything.

In contrast to the Warrior Diet, the daytime fasting without drinking seems to somewhat slow down the metabolism, the body acts as if it is starving, which technically it is not. I suspect that the missing fluid intake during the day tricks the body into starvation mode. Concentration issues and a slow, calm, and mellow feeling accompany the days.

During the second week, restraint changed its face and became "conscious thirst." Water makes all the difference. The metabolism adapted and started to react more like when stimulated by overeating. You find yourself constantly observing your mind and body for signs of deprivation, always alert and open for that special, spiritual situation. A side effect of eating before dawn is the appreciation of the magic during these beautiful hours.

The third week shifted the corporeal sensation to higher levels, I like to refer to it as "spiritual thirst." Very pure without any side-effects. The purpose of rituals becomes clear. There is little doubt that the whole exercise of fasting for a month is meant to have each and every participant enjoy the feeling of what I call forced spirituality. When you afford the willpower and the discipline to follow the fasting for such a long time, when you essentially conquer your mind and your body during that month, you just can't help to spend time exploring your spiritual potential. Four weeks of strict adherence to the rules should be more than enough time to ensure a spiritual experience for virtually each and every participant.

I further evolved my diet and eventually introduced eggs. Interesting to note, the spiritual relationship between fasting, eating and killing. I notice a sensibilization of the whole body towards food and efficient food choices, especially regarding the exact quantities of food. Again, weight loss is not intended and doesn't take place -- weight gain isn't supposed to happen either. Fasting is not a method to loose excess body fat.

Ultimately, during the fourth and final week, permanent change occurred, as in "transcended thirst." Business as usual. You get used to anything over time. The hunter is back, including the implications of eating animal produce after gradually introducing fish and eggs over the course of the month.

The fasting aftermath during the fifth week is a time for readaptation and the reprogramming of drinking water during the daytime. In reality, there is no readaptation needed, the first week after fasting is strongly shaped by the discipline and the resolve that enabled the fasting in the first place.

Conclusion: Neither suffering nor physical fasting is the main objective. It is the overall experience with highlights such as the appreciation of dawn and the intangible component which is experienced differently but almost guaranteed for each individual.

Commit yourself to something, anything for a prolonged and significant time and monitor yourself closely. Try something different. Whatever it may be. Note how time and circumstances are shaped and suddenly change at your fingertips when lived through a slightly changed context. To get started, you need the usual combination of willpower in the beginning and after the ignition, discipline, to take over. By the way, self-prescribed, or self-inflicted discipline is not that hard -- usually, you are not going to rebel against yourself, exceptions notwithstanding. An open outcome attitude is also helpful -- I never expected to change the foundations of my diet as an indirect result of the whole journey. The little things along the way, the apparently trivial events and situations, are what to watch out for.

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