There’s a general philosophy, that is happily applied in our community, and in different movements throughout the world: it’s the sense that all that happens, happens for a reason, and all that happens, happens for the best. Although it’s a very positive perspective on life, it is not always easy. When we are faced with disease, death, decay… How can we say that it’s all for the best? Still, in the grand scheme of things, there’s an intuitive sense that the challenges we face are exactly the lessons we need to be faced with. This gives a sense of hope and purpose, as we go through these times.
With this philosophy in mind, I was recently asked what I would do or change if I could make one wish, any wish. Of course, many noble things come to mind: to eradicate all hunger or poverty, to have world peace, to stop all suffering… But it didn’t seem to make sense to wish – directly – for these things; to have them happen instantaneously. Yes, I do wish that these things would occur one day, and sooner rather than later, but I believe that there is a sense in the suffering; there is a reason we go through it, and it’s for the best. Without the lessons learned, we are prone to make the same mistakes over and over and over again. So, what to wish for then? There seemed to be one sensible answer, that would allow me to keep continuously and energetically working towards these goals: my own health.
Life can get easily stripped away of its beauty when our bodies become dysfunctional; we are obstructed in what we can do, who we can help, how we can serve. We are obstructed in being. We are obstructed in connecting. I don’t have to explain the importance of health. All have experienced what it’s like not to be healthy in some way. And thus, we care for our own health and the health of those around us. Especially now, when facing difficult, high-risk times, with a heightened fear of infection and disease, there’s a continuous attempt to cook healthy meals, eat lots of fruits and vegetables, drink plenty of water, and get enough sleep. Here, at Ananda Valley, the importance of health is always stressed and discussed. Recently, we had a workshop on healthy living, covering the relevant topics like nutrition, sleep, meditation, but also a practice that was strange to me before arriving to Ananda Valley: fasting.
At Ananda Valley, it’s common to fast about two days a month. Of course, everybody chooses whether they would want to participate or not, but it’s a general practice that we do together, and throughout which we support each other. Why do we fast? Although food fuels us, it can also pay a heavy toll on our body. Especially after eating a little bit too much cake, or a time of being more sedentary, or when thoughts of carbs, sugar, chocolate, and coffee seem to be the only thing to think about, and we eat without considering our body’s actual needs. Food affects us both psychologically and physically, and it is easy to lose awareness about how we are affected by the food we eat.
The practice of fasting gives the body some rest from digesting food, which helps cleaning out the gut. It also is a way to reconnect to the body. I have noticed that for me, fasting means that there is a reset in my body and my mind. I generally sense that my energy goes up on the days that I choose not to eat, after undergoing the small pangs of hunger in the beginning. My body feels lighter, my mind clearer. Yes, doing hard physical work might not go so smoothly and fast as normally, but I generally end up feeling more energised, and often even able to work harder. The biggest benefit for me is the reset in my mind; food for me, as for many, often serves as a comfort. And when in discomfort, my mind likes to think of getting a little snack, and then another, and then another! And it rarely ever helps me feel better. Fasting then, and especially when we do it collectively, gives me the motivation to not give into what my mind tells me, and to listen to my body more, also in the days after the fast. Furthermore, the feeling of lightness in the body and in the mind can help elevate my spiritual practices, which by themselves improve health as well. By becoming more aware of my thought patterns, how my body feels, and how I am connected to everything that is around me, I tend to regain my motivation to take a better care of my body.
However, I do not want to talk about food or fasting or physical health to conclude this blogpost. I want to talk about community, and the incredible feeling I get when I think about how we care for each other in times of need: the lemon, turmeric, honey and ginger shots that are readily made when someone has a cold, the words of encouragement and kindness when not feeling too well, the gentleness with which we treat each other when people feel more emotional and vulnerable, and the understanding when the fasting becomes too hard and we decide to start eating again. And in this way, in addition to the classes, workshops, healthy vegetarian meals, fasting practices, and spiritual development, this place carries the potential to fulfil my wish: for me, and for everyone here, to be their most energetic, vibrant, and healthy selves.