IG’s Peace Blog

Peace and its many aspects

Changing perspective

It’s that time of year again–I’m fasting!  This changes your perspective on many things; in fact, I think that is the point of fasting as it has figured in almost all religious traditions.  Some think abstinence is, in itself, the point.  In fact, some think that self-abnegation to the point of asceticism is the point.  In other words, you deprive yourself until it hurts and that is seen as good for your soul.  I can see why people think like that, since there is a long tradition of spiritual giants, or saints, doing just that.  Consider, in this regard, the early Christian saints (one of my personal favorites was Simeon Stylites) or the Hindu Jains.

But, I don’t think that physical deprivation is the real key to fasting.  It seems to me to be more about becoming (more) conscious of the desires of the body and developing the capacity to control them.  Beyond that, if one is trying to control physical desires, one can move on to trying to monitor and correct negative thoughts:  such things as selfishness, violence, prejudice.  In other words, fasting can provide a wonderful time for a general spiritual housecleaning.  Of course, to benefit from this aspect of fasting you need to already be on a “path”.  Otherwise, how do you know what is “wayward” (ie something that takes you off the path) .

One approach I like very much I have seen attributed to the psychiatrist Alfred Adler.  The main idea is that if you are on a spiritual path, or at least are committed to a set of ethics, you need to be able to recognize what it is that pulls you off the path, and you need a way to get back to the path.  Basically, your ego pulls you off the path, for one of five reaons:

1.  You are trying to make an excuse for some behavior

2.  You are trying to attract attention to yourself

3.  You are trying to deal with feelings of inferiority by establishing a position of superiority

4.  You are seeking revenge

5.  You want to retreat (run away)

I found this very helpful, because all spiritual approaches say you have to win the battle over your ego, but this list helps you understand what that battle entails.  The sooner you learn to recognize these “ego distractions” the sooner you can go to work on them.

Anyhow, what I’m getting at is that for me, fasting puts me in a condition where I am (marginally at least) better able to recognize these behaviors and to try to do something about them.

By the way, if we consider interpersonal violence for a second.  It is pretty clear where it fits into the list above.  Most of the time it has to do with inferiority/superiority and revenge.   There can also be interactions among these behaviors:  if you can’t retreat, you may turn violent.  Or, children may act violently to attract attention, etc…

IGbarb says:  “Fasting makes you (more) peaceful, if you accept the challenges it presents”

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March 3, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , ,

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