Like yesterday, another slow start this morning with low blood pressure, and I had to be careful not to stand up too quickly after lying or sitting. I feel slow too, like Earth’s gravity has increased somewhat: almost as if I’m wearing an Apollo spacesuit. Mentally I’m totally fine, but for the past couple of days it hasn’t felt good to exert myself physically. Back on Day Three, for instance, I decided to do some leg lifts and a plank – something which has been part of my daily routine for years. After a few minutes of the plank, though, I felt a lot of resistance building up inside myself. I know I could have held out for the usual 7 minutes, but it just wasn’t worth it. To a lesser degree the same applied to the leg lifts. Why? My first reaction was that my ego just doesn’t want to put up with any more challenges – it must already have enough on with the fast. Since then, I’ve been thinking that possibly a more physical, bodily reaction is at work instead. With my general lack of fat stores anyway, my body – contrary to the case of overweight people – knows it needs to rest and conserve its fuel tanks. Consequently, it steers me away from physical exertion. (And let’s not forget that Gandhi permanently damaged his own body by overdoing it, trapesing across India through the sweltering heat on one of his two 21-day fasts.)
The likelihood of physical rather than ego/emotional resistance to exertion also concurs with an observation I’ve made when getting stung by stinging nettles and bitten by mosquitoes over the past couple of days. Here, there’s been no emotional reaction at all. It doesn’t really even feel ‘negative’. It’s just a sensation which I’m observing. It’s not because I’m ‘out of my body’ and observing from afar – I certainly am grounded ‘in’ it, and probably more so than usual. The difference is that the ego inhabiting my body-mind doesn’t complain. I accept it. I would have thought that if my ego is so impassive with stinging nettles and mosquito bites, then it makes no sense for me to have such a strong bodily reaction against physical exertion like planks and leg lifts. But who knows…
I spent pretty much the entire morning out in the garden, sitting, doing nothing, just watching what there was to see, listening to what there was to hear, smelling what there was to smell. No resistance. Wow.
Yesterday I formulated more precisely the conflict which has been working inside me since arriving here on Day One. It’s been more than just a question of feeling ‘worthy’ to be here on retreat, more than just a question of doing versus being. It’s also a battle with and against time. This is one reason, I think, that I’ve felt the conflict in the morning more so than in the afternoon. In the morning, I have a whole day to get through with no meals to cut up and structure the day, with no list of things which have to get done by a certain deadline. The whole day stretches out in one great empty arc. Terrifying, if you’re not at one with time. It’s an emptiness and space which perhaps also harks back on the ultimate emptiness of being itself… This is why afternoons have felt more comfortable – because, in terms of time, I’m already over the crest of the hill posed by each day. It’s manageable, achievable. More than just the dynamics taking place within each day, though, is the issue of 21 days: likewise a stretch of time so long that, especially in the first couple of days, I couldn’t even begin to make sense of it. I found and continue to find myself plotting a daily course through the journey of time. Today is Day Five, a quarter of the way through my fasting journey. That’s already a substantial chunk. Whew! Not because I’m craving something to eat, not because I can hardly wait to finish the fast, but because the simple duration of 21 days is such an incomprehensibly long time – especially if you’re planning to experience it consciously, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, second by second.
One more issue. Does my hormonal situation also affect the experience of time? It wouldn’t surprise me, since hormones affect pretty much everything else to do with perception and experience! Through the first few days of any fast, the body’s metabolism changes pretty much on a daily basis, from exhausting glycogen, to drawing on muscle tissue, to establishing ketosis, to entering detox. Now that I’m firmly in ketosis, now that detox is on the go, now that no significant hormonal change is going to take place for the remainder of the fast – and now that the hormonal situation driving my current metabolism has been stable since yesterday, when I felt detox beginning to kick in – perhaps the hormonal stability makes it easier to relax. Change, after all, is always one of the biggest potential threats to the ego, which determines our perception of time. It’s interesting, though, that if this is indeed the case, the change – or, in this case, stability – isn’t something going on outside but rather inside the body. I mean, we usually think of the ego as being something emotional or even spiritual (if not ‘anti-spiritual’) – but definitely not as something based on a collection of physical, biochemical reactions.
Perhaps the biochemical processes taking place during this stage of a fast – be it ketosis itself, as well as all the other hormonal reactions which sustain the body in its ‘rest and healing mode’ – also help to enable an acceptance of time. I know from past experience that it’s much easier to be once a fast has set in (although I’ve never formulated from exactly which day this tends to happen).
What does it mean to accept time? It means to let it go and, in letting it go, no longer perceive it. Any perception of time takes place in the ego, which is always counting the time, for deep down it knows its days are numbered: inextricably tied to the finite, mortal body it inhabits. In parallel, the perception of time, at least to a degree, always catalyses a sense of isolation and therefore suffering. To let go of time means to let go of the ego, its isolation, its suffering.
Part of me is getting suspicious now. Could this letting go of time, and of the dilemma between doing and being, actually constitute a creeping complacency in disguise? It’s always possible. I could always be fooling myself. There’s no way to know for sure. All I can do is try to honestly observe myself over the coming days and weeks. I also suspect that if I’m fooling myself, I won’t be able to keep it up for 21 days! Most importantly, though, letting go of the dilemma between doing and being does presuppose a letting go of time. Because once time has melted away, it’s more or less irrelevant whether you are doing or being. For in surrendering time, you also inherently surrender the distinction between doing and being. Everything, your whole experience, has at this point just become a single flow.
I don’t expect my current flow to last the remainder of 21 days 🙂 .