1 : to abstain from food
2 : to eat sparingly or abstain from some foods
Fasting is not a spiritual discipline that I am well acquainted with. I've given up things for Lent a few times - most memorably chocolate (hard to do!) and not using negative self-talk (much, much harder than chocolate) - but fasting is not a regular part of my spiritual practice. Years ago, a friend somewhat jokingly suggested that what I should fast from was books. I laughed it off, but his words came back to me eight days ago and I just couldn't shake the impression that I needed to fast from books and that the time was now.
I was not excited to receive this prompting. I love books. I love reading. I couldn't imagine what it would feel like to give them up voluntarily. In fact, I was pretty much on the hunt for a good book when I received this prompting. I'd recently had two false starts on books that just weren't what I wanted and I was craving a book that would sweep me away and take me somewhere else. My mounting dissatisfaction with these books made me acutely aware of how I use books to satisfy me in a way that is sometimes unhealthy. Still.... give up books altogether?
I spent some time trying to listen to the quiet but persistent voice calling me to fast. It became pretty clear to me that I should fast from fiction and that the reason for this was closely tied to the way I use fiction to escape my life. A good fiction book takes me to another place, another time, another life. A good fiction book allows me to forget about my own troubles, insecurities or pain. And pain, perhaps, is the very reason I needed to fast from fiction. Because I use fiction to numb myself to feelings that I should go ahead and experience. I've been working on not squashing uncomfortable, painful or disagreeable feelings when I have them. I am long accustomed to putting a brave face on everything, but I think there is a time and place to grieve and I can't grieve if I'm lost in a good book.
I'm on day eight without fiction and I'm not sure when I'll feel released to pick up a novel again. Soon, I hope. It has gotten a bit easier as the days have gone on. Clearly giving up something like reading fiction isn't pure loss. It opens up lots of time for other things. So what has abstaining from fiction brought? More listening, more creating, more listening to music. I've tried to resist substituting television for books and have only watched the shows I would have watched anyway (Lost and Glee). And I've still been reading. Specifically this and this - two books that relate perfectly to why I need to fast from the easy escape in order to stay anchored in the every day.
I'm not sure whether this fast has been a success. I've certainly been given clear direction through the process. In fact, I've been given an answer to a question that I didn't know was a question. But the answer, while bringing me some relief, will also bring some pain and take me well outside of my comfort zone. I guess "success" is difficult to define for a fast. Has this made me more aware of my tendency to use fiction to numb myself? Yes. Has it created a space for me to listen to things that I didn't want to hear, but needed to hear? Yes. Will I be thankful when I can pick up a novel with a clear conscience? Absolutely.