Practice for the Inevitable: The Second Annual IHD Fast
Give context to your holiday celebrations by joining us December 12-14 for our annual fast.
Hello everyone! Last December Shane and I (and many readers) did a 48-hour fast together. This coming weekend on December 12-14, we plan to do it again. Wondering how or why? Interested in joining us this year? Let’s get into this week’s Stuff!
ONE FROM THE AGES
Seneca on practicing hardship:
“I shall give you also a lesson: Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: "Is this the condition that I feared?" It is precisely in times of immunity from care that the soul should toughen itself beforehand for occasions of greater stress...If you would not have a man flinch when the crisis comes, train him before it comes. Such is the course which those men have followed who, in their imitation of poverty, have every month come almost to want, that they might never recoil from what they had so often rehearsed.”
Source: Seneca’s18th Letter to Lucilius, on Festivals and Fasting
ONE FROM TODAY
Author Gillian Riley on expanding our willpower:
“Willpower isn’t something that gets handed out to some and not to others. It is a skill you can develop through understanding and practice.”
ONE FROM US
During last week’s Stuff, Shane invited you all to join us for a 48-hour fast. A few of you participated last year and perhaps a few more of you are already intrigued enough to join us this year. I’ll give the full details at the end of this post.
That leaves the vast majority of you reading this wondering, “why the hell would anyone, aside from masochists, choose to not eat for two full days?”
Extended fasts can be one of the most important self-development tools available.
I could make this argument in physiological terms by citing numerous studies about the effect that occasional fasts have on hormones, metabolism, and longevity.
I could also make the argument in spiritual terms by citing the countless religious and philosophical traditions that use fasting to bring meaning to their faith and build communal bonds between devotees.
I could even make the argument in evolutionary terms. For hundreds of thousands of years early humans lived in constant cycles of hunger and bounty. They feasted when they could and subsisted on very little when they needed to. Occasional bouts of hunger are an evolved expectation for our species and the reason why fasting carries so many positive health benefits.
All of these reasons give fasting a bit more validity, but none are the primary reason why Shane, me, and many other readers will fast. More than anything, we will fast as essential training and preparation for life.
Regardless of your circumstances, life is going to throw you curveballs. You should even expect the occasional wild pitch straight to the face. While some might wish for it, we cannot honestly expect a life free of hardship. The best way to weather such beatings is to prepare ahead of time—mind, body, and spirit.
Logistically, fasting is easy. In fact, not preparing or eating food frees up many hours in a day. Yet I don’t need to tell you how difficult a long fast is in practice. This is exactly why we choose it. The decision to eat (or not) is entirely within your control. No external circumstance can interfere with your commitment to fast. As such, it is the perfect arena to train discomfort, willpower, and principled sacrifice.
I recently had a close friend quit drinking forever. He never came close to a rock-bottom incident but his last few attempts to throttle back his consumption showed him that he isn’t biologically capable of a healthy, moderate relationship with alcohol. When he called to tell me about his decision, I was struck by something he said that has little to do with drinking. He claimed that the best part of his decision was that it represented a new lens on his decision making. He said that he typically takes the easy path or the more comfortable option. This decision felt good because it meant a fundamental shift—choosing the difficult path rooted in what was best for him and his family.
Last week, Shane discussed how willpower is like a muscle. It fatigues and even wears out when tested, yet we can also train it to superhuman strength. I admire my friend’s decision to abstain from alcohol for many reasons, but perhaps most I admire such motivating flexing of will. Our fast is the same.
We will deny our most basic and pleasurable impulse for an extended time so that we emerge stronger on the other side. We will prove to ourselves that we are capable of withstanding discomfort and train our ability to withstand much worse. And we will feel the ironic spiritual pleasure that comes from embracing a short-term denial of physical gratification.
For those ready to join us, the details are:
No food for 48 hours. Eat dinner on Saturday, December 12. Do not eat again until dinner on Monday, December 14.
Drink more water than normal. This can bring a small feeling of satiety, but it is also important to replace the water in food.
Consult a doctor. Please skip the fast or talk to your doctor if you have medical condition where a fast puts you at risk.
Black coffee and tea. We both do regular 24-hour fasts where we allow ourselves black coffee. This fast is more ceremonial and intended to be difficult. We will abstain from black coffee and tea, but you are more than welcome to include them if you feel it’s right. No cream, sugar, or added calories.
A shorter version. 48 hours is extreme as a first-time fast. We invite you to try any fast that is longer than what you’ve done before. Some great choices are:
24 hours, concluding with dinner on Sunday, December 13.
36 hours, concluding with breakfast on Monday, December 14. This is a great option to still test your limits since you have a full-waking day with no food. Last year my partner Marika began with the intention to go 36 hours, but ultimately decided to extend to the full 48. The second half is always easier!
Warm water. Lukewarm water is far easier on an empty stomach than chilled water.
Hot water. A cup of hot water can replace your desire for morning coffee or tea.
Sea salt. A few electrolytes go a long way. A small pinch of sea salt, less than enough to taste, added to the above-mentioned water will boost your absorption and prevent dehydration.
ZeroFasting.com. This website and app is the best resource we know for healthy fasting.
Life is too short to be normal,
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Justin, I really enjoyed your article on shame, and read it twice to better absorb the many helpful insights. It seems to me that much of what you say about shame would also apply to guilt, and I'd suggest that your definition of "shame" -- as "an internal alarm" showing us when our actions are incongruent with what we regard as our true self -- would apply equally as well, if not better, to guilt. I especially appreciate, however, that you stress that shame, which is differentiated from guilt by its public character (shame involves a public rebuke or some other external input, while guilt involves conscience or some other internal source, with or without public awareness of the actions that precipitate it) is nevertheless still basically an internal response. This is more difficult for people to see in the case of shame than it is in the case of guilt.
I'd be interested to hear (or better, read) your analysis of cases where it is not the action precipitating shame that needs correction, but rather what we deem to be our true self. Presumably, our goals and ideals are, in a most fundamental sense, strategies not only for achieving our true or best selves, but also for defining our true or best selves. As such, our ideal self is dynamic and susceptible to revision and improvement in a manner somewhat analogous to our habits and actions.
As an example, I remember when I was a college student involved in athletics, and I was being "rushed" by the "jock fraternity" and wanted to achieve a form of selfhood that was admired, or admirable, for being masculine and attracting the attention of females. One of the seniors who was rushing me noted that the young woman I brought to the rush party was extremely attractive. This made me feel good about myself and I made some sort of comment that insinuated that she and I had a rather torrid romance. Then he asked "How is she in the sack?" I felt shame as I replied that I had no idea how she was in the sack -- and at least part of the shame resided in public humiliation over not being very efficient or successful at seducing women. It took me a while to figure that the problem wasn't that I was inept with women, but rather that I had incorporated the public, Hollywood-reinforced, brand of masculinity into my image of the ideal self. When I revised my values, and what I deemed to be my ideal self, the shaming incident was defused. And I joined a different, better fraternity. In this case it was not my action (i.e., refraining from trying to have sex with my new girlfriend) that needed correction; it was my image of my ideal self that needed correction.
Justin, I value your and Shane's book lists VERY much, and I'm no slouch when it comes to what I read and what is in my library. Indeed, I am reading Tribe right now, thanks to Shane. What a book! Great books make you think about what you might have already suspected. I'm happy to see you have Stillness is the Key on your list. That is one that I buy and send to friends.
Take care and keep the faith.