Tuesday Jan 7, 2003 7:06 pm
I am just now breaking my week-long fast and I feel just great and I wanted to share with you what I did. Actually, the first day I drank two cups of chicken broth and two cups of tea and today I have had two cups of weak miso soup (the second one had a small amount of tofu and two tablespoons of cooked rice mixed in and took me over 20 minutes to finish. So if you want to be strict about the term of the fast you could say that I only drank water and ate nothing for about 5 1/2 days.
Why did I fast? For health and spiritual reasons. Mostly to remind myself that I can exercise my will and ability to choose what I do. It used to be a yearly ritual for me for about a half a dozen years ending in 1990. That year I had a bad experience. About three days into the fast I began mixing just a little bit of fruit juice into the water telling myself that just a little would be “OK” etc. Then more. Then MORE. Then 50%! Then I “decided” to break the fast a day earlier than I’d intended and to eat (of all things!) nuts and raisins. Within a hour I’d probably consumed a pound of ’em, and then gorged on whatever else was nearby. I didn’t experience any negative physical effects from it, but I sure felt ashamed, and the result was exactly the opposite of what I had intended. I managed to prove to myself that I could not exercise my will but instead was a prisoner of my desires.
Well, so to speak, anyway. I’m actually pretty light hearted about all this stuff and I didn’t become depressed or anything, but I sure felt bad. Instead of “great” which is how I feel right now! Just great!
Many years ago the Abbot of the LA Buddhist temple which hosts our annual Nisei Week tournament asked Mr. Ohshima to describe how he fasts. I have been unable to locate a copy of that article this minute, but I have read it several times in previous years and have increasingly followed Mr. Ohshima’s advice about fasting.
This has been by far my most successful fast. I began Midnight of December 31 (an easy time to start, since most of the first hours are spent in bed asleep)! The morning of January 1 I drank 8 oz of chicken soup for breakfast and then drank at least 12 oz of water an hour throughout the day. While fasting whatever food is inside you remains until the fast is broken. Mr. Ohshima mentioned cleansing the bowel at the beginning of the fast. I had purchased a kit at the drugstore designed to clean you out prior to surgery or colonoscopy. I followed the directions and in the late afternoon I took the first part which was laxative mixed from powder of magnesium and citrus in a glass of water — awful tasting stuff! Then continued to drink water and went to New Year’s dinner at a Thai restaurant with all my kids and family. I drank two cups of tea and a lot of water and yearned for food but didn’t eat. When I got home the laxative was beginning to take effect and it was time to take four tiny pills which contained another laxative. And in the morning the kit closed with a suppository and after that was effective, an enema! Sorry to gross you out, but let me tell you, I felt clean inside! But a side-effect of that course of laxatives is headache and I spent my second day with a bad one. And I felt weak.
From The late afternoon of January 1st until this morning (January 7), I have had no food or juice or tea… only water. Lots of water. I think that I have been drinking between 150 and 200 ounces a day in an effort to de-tox (if that really works) and to prevent dehydration. It also gave me something to do with my mouth and throat and stomach which were very bored. Unless you fast, you can have no appreciation of how central eating is to family life friendship and culture.
January 3 through this minute I have felt just great. I have meditated, written a lot of letters, worked on my artwork designs and rested. I had several nights where I slept little and got up in the wee hours of the morning to come to the studio and work a bit. When I have felt sleepy I have slept. My kids tell me that I’ve been ‘mellower’ than usual. Perhaps my energy level is lower than usual. But I have not felt hungry in the normal sense at all. My metabolism seems to have steadied and I have no ups and downs — tired spells — periods of excitement — just even, very even. It’s been nice. If not for the insistence of my wife, I believe it would be easy to continue for a number of days more.
I have lost more than 10% of my body weight, between 24 and 28 pounds (I imagine more than that by this evening). Some of that will come right back as I increase my diet over the next two or three days, but some is really lost. After about five days, the body continues to lose about a pound or a little more each day of the fast until starvation (extreme skinniness) is reached. Then things begin to shut down and the energy level decreases. I figure that at my weight, I would reach the starvation level in about two months or a little more. Of course, after 10 or 20 days you should add some electrolytes to the drinking water. Most experienced long-fasters seem to recommend squeezing the juice of ONE lemon into each gallon of water consumed. A similar lemon juice or vinegar splash is recommended for regular enemas during extended fasting. But imagine: I very likely would survive in relative comfort for several months without eating a thing! I’m like a human camel (only my humps are not on my back :-)!
When I drank my two soups today it took a LONG time. I don’t think that I have ever tasted anything half so delicious as those two bowls of very weak miso. And the rice! It took forever to chew, but it is so sweet and flavorful! I am talking about steamed rice like you’d get at a Chinese restaurant. Have you never noticed how incredibly delicious it is? I certainly never had. I have spent most of my life talking, reading, paying attention to a million other things and not my food. What a wonderful tremendously pleasurable thing it is to eat! But I hadn’t had more than two sips of my broth when my stomach mildly revolted and I first had a bunch of burps, and then the hiccups. The same thing happened when I began the second cup. I wonder how long that will continue? Certainly an interesting experience.
I still have no appetite at all and do not feel at all hungry. I feel content and happy and satisfied. Isn’t that so strange? Well, it is to me! I’ll have a dinner in a few hours of another cup of miso soup, maybe with three table spoons of steamed rice mixed in.
Tomorrow I plan to continue miso soup for breakfast and lunch. With a little more of that delicious rice and a bit of seaweed and tofu. And tomorrow evening, the same with a very small piece of grilled salmon if I feel OK about it.
One of my favorite stories is of Joshu, the 12th Century Zen Master. As they crossed a bridge over a river, one of his disciples asked, “How deep is that river, do you think?”. Immediately, Joshu threw him off the bridge and into the water, and it is said that the disciple immediately reached a new understanding. So, if you’re curious about this fasting thing, I encourage you to experience it for yourself!
Best of everything to you for the New Year,
A bit more the following day…
I don’t know about extended fasting by someone with little or no body fat. The body must have nourishment — it normally comes from food. When food isn’t present, the body begins to metabolize fat. The first fat metabolized is the fat contained in the muscles themselves, and then more slowly, larger fat deposits in the belly, sides, butt, etc are metabolized. When the fat is insufficient or non-existant, then the muscles and other organs are metabolized. That is real starvation and eventually leads to death. Therefore, an extended fast by someone who are already very thin would seem to me to be unhealthy.
Yesterday I drank a late breakfast of 8 oz of 1/2 strength miso soup. That’s a very weak fish-broth with some soybean mash, seaweed, and salt. It was the most delicious thing I can remember tasting. Then I had a late lunch of the same, but with two tablespoons of steamed rice mixed in and a very small (1/2 cubic inch?) piece of tofu. Lots of water the whole time. Then last night I had 1/2 cup of steamed rice, another very weak miso soup, and about 1 to 1 1/2 cubic inches of tofu. Also one small bite of carrot and a small amount of cantaloupe. At bed time I had a cup of weak green tea / jasmine tea blend. All were delicious, but not as thrilling as breakfast and lunch. Today I feel quite normal. My consciousness is not spread out ribbon thin a long way outside my body as it was yesterday (and the past week), but is more localized like a wet lump in me — my normal state. I hadn’t perceived this until sometime after dinner last night. Then it was clear to me.
I did not have as much trouble digesting dinner as I did breakfast and lunch, by the way. I have not yet eaten today, having made my usual 7am practice, but I am looking forward to a nice cup of somewhat richer soup later this morning. Same for lunch along with a cup of steamed rice. And I bought a small piece of salmon for dinner tonight to add to the soup and rice. Not that I’m thinking about food much. 🙂
I took five days to return to a ‘normal’ diet and could perceive no negative or ill effects from either the fast nor the break-fast.