21 day water fast: day 0, or ‘the day before’

mount everestWhy?  Why 21 days?  For everyday detox, cleansing and health a week-long fast would be perfectly sufficient.  Well, I’ve done numerous 7-10 day water fasts over previous years, and I was thinking that a longer fast would be able to dig deeper into my body.  I’d like to experience that.  Also, it’s been a while since doing such a fast, because over the last couple of years I’ve been experimenting with dry fasting instead.

But maybe most concisely, it’s best summed up in the words of Edmund Hillary (the first man to reach the summit of Mount Everest).  Why climb Mount Everest?  As he said: because it’s there.  Of course a 21-day fast comes nowhere near to climbing the tallest peak in the world, but the motive has largely been the same.  To see what’s at the top of the mountain, this mountain.

On a deeper level, there are also specific spiritual reasons.  I’ve been living with some unresolved questions for over a year now, especially career-wise.  In short, where am I going in life?… Although I’ve allowed them to live along inside me in the hope that they’ll untangle, they simply don’t want to evolve and transform in a fruitful direction.  So I’m bringing them with me on my fast.  If I can go deeper into myself during this period, perhaps I’ll find some answers.

Gandhi only ever did two 21-day water fasts in his life (they were his longest), and they nearly permanently ruined his body – not because there’s anything inherently dangerous or harmful in fasting, but because he also spent those three weeks marching across India in the cause of independence and freedom.  That’s not to say a fast can be spent safely only in bed, but under the baking Indian sun and given the distances he walked from village to village each day, he clearly exceeded his body’s physical limitations.

My plan is to do this on retreat at our country cottage.  I have no expectations about whether I’ll be marching through the fields each day with overflowing energy, or whether I’ll be resting in bed throughout.  We’ll have to see.  But I do know that it’s said that people lacking much body fat do tend to feel low on energy compared to overweight people.  Ten days ago I ran a solo trail ultramarathon (35 miles / 55 km.) through the hills and forest from Budapest to the Danube bend, so that says something about how much extra weight I carry… Now it’s one extreme to the other, from outer exuberance with nature to a much more inner journey.  The trail run was a lesson in surrendering to the flow of time over a whole day: one single arc of movement through time, just as the sun slowly slides across the sky.  I expect something similar of this fast, except in much larger dimensions.

As far as preparations for the fast are concerned, I’ve done really very little, both physically and psychologically.  In any longer fast, your diet prior to its start is clearly very important.  You don’t want half-digested food rotting in your system for three weeks after your stomach and intestines shut down.  I happen to be vegan, though, so this means there hasn’t been very much for me to change in the way of diet.  I’ve kept off all caffeine for the last few days, and avoided any flour-based products for the last two days – since flour tends to form a sticky paste and is prone to glue itself to the wall of the intestine.  I haven’t bothered, though, with the typical recommendation of only fruits and vegetables for the last three days (preferably juiced or mashed in the last day or two).  I’ve kept to whole foods right up until today.  I doubt fasters in ancient times had the luxury of food processers and blenders, and it seems that fasting never harmed them!  No, I’ve included whole grains such as oats in muesli even today, since oats help to scrub the side of the intestinal wall.  Besides that, plenty of fruits and vegetables, as might be expected.

Psychologically, it can certainly help to know the starting date of your fast well in advance, and to ‘feel down’ the days as it approaches, so that you’re as comfortable and centred as possible when it actually begins.  In my case, I did have a date a month in advance, but for all sorts of reasons, everything got thrown up in the air this last week, so that it was really only a few days ago that the starting date was fixed.  I don’t feel this has unnerved me – as much as it might have done, were I not so familiar with 10-day fasts.  21 days is obviously twice as long, but it nevertheless builds on those first ten days.  For me, then, I’m ready to begin.

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