Five Day Fast

Whenever I am sick with a major or minor illness I fast, sometimes for one or two days, but usually for three days. I do not run to a doctor nor take medicines of any kind, even those recommended by well meaning friends. I believe that my body has awesome wisdom and power to heal itself. To help the body to do the healing work I do a few little things such as; eat only fruit and vegetables for a day or two, change quantity of my diet, or find and eat proven herbs growing nearby. Sometimes I try just to obey my true palate and eat what it craves. But if the illness persists, I fast for 3 days. I eat no solid food; drink no coconut water or fruit juice. I drink only plain water and rest in bed. I avoid reading, talking, walking and physical work of any kind. Unless it is the middle of summer and I feel hot and uncomfortable I avoid taking a bath. Sometimes, when necessary, I just rub my body with a wet towel once or twice a day. For about 20 years I have done the above quite faithfully and have succeeded marvelously in enjoying good health.

My first healing fast was 8 days long. After that, for 20 years, my fasts have not been longer than 3 days. March 3rd 2009 I was going to start a 5-day fast. Despite my strong positive experience and conviction that fasting is good and fairly easy, I admit, I was apprehensive.

Monday evening March 2nd I ate a light supper of two slices of bread, some cooked veggies and a small helping of finely cut salad. The total amount was about 3/4th of what I normally eat. The thought of ‘no food for 5 days’ was big in my mind. One reason is that I like to eat. I have eaten foods of many cultures, and have liked them all, of course not equally. My wife never tests any of her preparations on me because she thinks I will say it is good even if there is no salt in it. She exaggerates, but it is true that out of respect for the cooks and appreciation of generosity I praise what is given to me. Growing up in a Punjabi family I learned to eat heartily. Till age 30 it did not show on my strong, trim body. But then a little paunch began to show. It was partly due to rich American food that contained lots of cheese and some meat. I had to reduce my intake of food slowly to about half.

Early morning the first day, March 3, about 5:30am I went out to my outdoor dry toilet. This is my normal routine. My stomach emptied with perfect ease and so completely that for the next 5 days I did not have to go to toilet. This, in my view, was a good beginning. I felt elated. The day began well with a cheerful mood. I rested in bed all morning getting up 2-3 times to drink water or/and to urinate. Changes in the timing of my toilet routine do not worry me for I trust my body to adjust in its own time the best possible way.

Early afternoon my mood changed for the worse. I began to have negative thoughts about fasting. ‘Why five days, why not just three or even one?’ ‘What is the need for it?’ ‘I am not sick.’ For all this I had only one good answer; I have not fasted for 7-8 months and it will cleanse and tone up my body. But the mind kept repeating its complaints till late in the night till I went to sleep. I slept well all night and woke up feeling rested, calm and so cheerful I took a short walk. I washed my hands and face, took some deep breaths and lay down.

Morning of the second day my mind was still bickering, but only half heartedly, for it knew I would not relent. But all kinds of unhappy past memories kept popping up. Most of them were of silly little mistakes I had made in the past. On top of it I was famished all morning. I was thinking of food and eating. My hunger pangs were real but towards the evening they began to weaken. I had several short and long naps during the day and by late night about 10:00pm I fell asleep and in the second night of fast slept like a log.

In the morning of third day I felt fine. My hunger was weak and my mind resolved. The day passed quite easily as I dosed most of the time. During waking times my mind kept hearing the goings-on inside the body. I have a small callus near my right eye. I felt it softening and melting. There were groans, heightened activity, slight pain, itch in different parts of the body. But there was no severe pain or discomfort. A couple of time I felt mild head ache and light fever but they did not last.

On the fourth day my mind was occupied with fear of two more long days of fasting and inactivity. I was not very hungry any more. Yet thoughts of food and its taste kept coming to mind. By this time members of our community were thinking of me with a sense of sympathy and anxiety. Ananthu ji’s mother, oldest in our community, came to visit me. She was happy to see me cheerful, but I could see that she worried over me. She told Sudesh and Gopalan that I should be persuaded to drink a tender coconut. Gopalan’s mother agreed and added her weight to the elder’s recommendation. Feeling the awesome strength of their concern and my heart’s secret desire, I succumbed and drank a coconut in the evening of the fourth day. This I had never done in my earlier fasts.

As expected, I was persuaded to drink another coconut in the morning of the fifth and last day of my fast. The coconut water tasted like nectar but I feared it might hinder the healing work of the body. It is difficult to tell, but it seems the body kept right on working as if no infringement had occurred.

At about 5:30pm I was given some steamed ridge-gourd, which I relished like divine food. At suppertime I ate a small helping of cooked vegetables. On 8th March I ate all three meals but in smaller quantity than usual. My stomach began to move like before the fast. My body strength returned to normal very quickly. I felt that my facial skin had become smoother, eyes brighter, and sight clearer. Also, I felt cleaner and a bit lighter inside.

The Gain This Time
Twenty years ago when I fasted for 8 days my intestines were thoroughly scrubbed. I felt that my digestive system began to work very smoothly. I was absorbing nutrients more efficiently and as a consequence needed less food. I felt lighter, cleaner and transformed. The good effect is with me to this day.

This time my gain is of a different sort. I came out feeling sedated. It was as if I had been given a dope. I was hearing less and often forgetting things. Several times in the last 20 days since I broke the fast I have sat at the computer and gone blank. For several minutes I could not know which keys to punch and how to move the cursor. I just walk away and come back partly recovered. I am then able to work. These blackouts still keep coming but they are fewer and with longer gaps.

I know for sure that my hearing power has weakened in the last 2-3 years, especially in the left ear. I often do not hear clearly enough to understand what message the faint words convey. But now dopiness is added to my hearing disability. It feels as if the sounds comes through a double filter.

This seems to be the effect of the fast. It does not alarm or frighten me for I think the change is most probably not permanent, but I hope recurrent. For the body is trying to rein the mind. It seems that I am being instructed to try to listen to the body, i.e. the gut, and not the mind all the time. This may sound like autosuggestion of the mind. But I look at it differently.

I know for sure that body has its own wisdom that it draws from the Divine Spirit. The two are directly linked. Mind works with memory, past, thought and its ego needs. It can decide to put wrong foods into the mouth, and indulge in myriad temptations of the world, but it cannot enter the body and directly interfere in its working. For inside the body the gut is the ruler. We seldom feel it because we can neither see nor converse with it. All of us get so used to hearing and learning through words that we become deaf to the ‘sounds’ of the gut.

My body doped and dulled my mind so I could turn my full attention to listening and learning from inside where the Great Wisdom resides. This language is subtle and without words. It works in quantum leaps and with composite bunches of related realities. Learning in this fashion is of a different, unfamiliar order.

I feel that fasting led my body to wield its mace to awaken me to itself. There were many clear messages and more keep coming every morning. I have no reason to think that this communication will not continue for every morning heralds a brand new day.

Here is a sample of my gifts from body’s wisdom. It teaches: 1.Learn to be quiet. For with words you can neither teach anything worthwhile nor change anybody. ‘Being an old parrot’ there is no chance that you will learn to say the right thing at the right time. But you can be quiet. 2.The world is okay as it is, other things being equal. As the Vedic Rishi said, ‘it is purna,’ (complete) given what came before to shape it. So, do not bang your head against stonewall. Just live by the gut and do the best you can. 3. Love all. It will smoothen your path. 4. Speak always the truth for it will simplify your choice making.
Gut’s teachings are simple and direct. They are just right for my weak mind.

Partap, 21st March 2009

Honey in the Comb

(My friend Nagrajan narrated to me two true first-hand experiences. I told you one last week. Here is the other. I am sure you will like it.)
A young man named Jugnu of the Solige tribe of south India was guiding a group of trekkers in the Nilgiri Forest. Nagrajan was one of the trekkers.

On a tall tree they saw a huge bee hive. It was very active with bees hovered all over it. Most of them were bringing nectar from flowers in the forest. This then is fanned to dry into honey. All the trekkers stopped and watched with fingers in their mouths. No one had seen such an active hive of this size. Some suggested that one of them should go up and bring some honey. The Solige guide told them that the bees would attack and can even kill. One needs appropriate skills to get honey from an active hive. He further told them that he knew how to do it. Hearing this everyone wanted him to climb the tree.

He hesitated but then agreed. With great skill he went right to the big active hive and stopped dead for several minutes. Then very carefully and with perfect calm he cut a small part of the hive with his knife and carefully wrapped it in his shawl. The bees sat over his face and arms but they did not bite him. Spirit of friendliness seemed to prevail between Jugnu and the bees. The bees who came to the tribal youth seemed to understand that he was a friend who would not harm the hive. So they did not hurt him.

So Jugnu brought down a big piece of hive brimming with honey. But it was only a small part, perhaps no more than a fifth of the whole hive. Many members of the group felt disappointed. A bold one among them asked, “Jugnu, why did you not take the whole hive, or at least half of it? Why let good honey go to waste?”

Jugnu seemed to be stunned to hear the question. He was quiet for a long moment. Then he answered: “For two main reasons, of course. One, I wanted to take only a small part of the honey for it belongs rightly to the bees. They worked very hard to collect it and will need it to survive in the lean season. And two, there are other claimants to the largesse of the bees-- the bears, monkeys and many others who have good fur that can provide protection from the bee stings.”

Jugnu also told the trekkers how beneficial the bees were to the forest and to all animals and plants. In fact the honey was only a minor part of what the bees gave us. They carry pollen on their wings and cross-pollinate all big and small plants. Without the bees the plants would be weaker and far less productive. Therefore, we adivasis are taught to be very gentle and leave enough for the bees. For only then they will survive to carry on their important service to the community of life. Also, we must take only the honey filled cells and not to destroy or harm any cells that have little babies in them. He then showed the trekkers what he had cut and brought down. The city youth were amazed and much impressed to see how careful and considerate Jugnu had been.

March 21, 2009

Birds and Animals Must Eat Their Share of Crop

My friend Nagraj told me this, his firsthand experience.

He was visiting a forest in the hills half a day’s journey from Bangalore. There he stayed with a friend. He noticed that one young adivasi worker slept in the field to watch the ripening crop from wild boars and other animals. Nagraj too, wanted to sleep in the open, under the forest sky. His friend discouraged him for he thought it might be too cold for a soft city man. Or, some big cat or a crawler may accidentally come and cause harm. But in the end he agreed to let him go out with the Jeyn Korubu boy.

The Korubu boy had skillfully made an 18” high bed with bamboo legs. It was wide enough for two, so Nagraj was easily accommodated. The bed was not even, nor smooth and soft, but Nagraj had no objection for it was out in the open. Lying on it one saw the lights of the night and heard sounds of the jungle. The whole vast sky with millions of stars was open to view all night. The experience was so thrilling that Nagraj went daily on all the days he was there.

One night both the ‘watchers’ fell asleep. First the wild boars and then other animals came to nibble on the juicy ears of the grain crop. The owner heard of the damage and scolded the boy. The lad did not say a word. Apparently he was not sorry, so there was no need to say a thing. The owner was unhappy, but he knew what was in the boy’s mind and he did not press the point.

Next night Nagraj asked the boy, “Clearly, you saw no reason to regret having slept. Why is that? Do you not think the owner has the right to demand safety of his crop?”

The boy was quiet for a while. He then said, “Whose land? Whose crop? Who’s right to eat? The birds will eat, then the animals, and what remains is our share. In my view birds and animals have the same right as my employer to eat what the forest has produced. All of us have the right to eat. No one has the sole right to food, for that would starve all the others to death. The forest then will be in danger of dieing.”

“But your employer owns the land,” said Nagraj.

“The Great Spirit of the forest owns the land. All animals including humans are children of the forest. We may live in it and eat its fruits, but no one can claim ownership. This is what we Korubus believe.”

Nagraj fully agreed and never forgot the words of the boy.

14 March 2009

Grazing Other Peoples’ Cows

In Indian villages and small towns people keep cows or buffaloes mainly to get milk for the family. During the day the animals are sent out to graze along the roads or in the open areas. Young boys serve as cowherds and they take ten to a hundred animals. . While the animals are grazing the boys often get together to play games or just chat. A popular topic of discussion is the animals. Knowledge of animal behavior is shared. They talk of the animals in their care as ‘my’ animals. Number is important, their looks and their milk yield are also features to talk and boast about. They compare ‘their’ cows with those under the care of others and brag. They often get into heated arguments defending their cows. Yet none of them own even one animal and probably never will. Sounds hilarious, rather silly, doesn’t it?

But on thinking about others and myself it occurs to me that we scholars and teachers act much like the cowherds. We interpret, defend and oppose ideas we have read in books as if they were ours. But they are never our ideas, as the cows do not belong to the cowherds. They cannot drink milk of their animals nor profit from their sale. Similarly we do not mould our lives by the good ideas. In fact many of us remain completely untouched.

For instance depression seems to be descending on us. Scholars cry hoarse about its nature and cause. They also talk of what needs to be done. But when we look at our lives we know that we are totally vulnerable. We will sink line, hook and float when the storm hits.

The ones who are likely to be least affected and to survive are the poor. They have never been to college. Nor have they read any books that theorize on these events. Their strength is the ability to adapt to the environment. When there is more, they enjoy it. In times of scarcity they reduce their consumption. Their suffering is minimal.

There is a moral to all this. We own only those good ideas that we live by, for only they benefit us. Others are like ephemeral bubbles thrown up by agitated water--here now and gone in the next moment.

December 6, 2008