4 Things The Fast Helps Us Strengthen

As I take part in this special period of the Baha’i year, and join fellow Baha’is around the world in The Fast, I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve learned from fasting over the years. Probably the main thing which comes to mind is that even now, although I’ve been doing it every year for the last 20 years – I’m not getting any better at it.

But perhaps that’s the point. To get better at it would mean that we would potentially miss out on a significant opportunity to put ourselves to the test in order to help ourselves grow and develop into better human beings, which is what we’re encouraged to do as Baha’is everyday. Baha’u’llah wrote:

We have enjoined upon you fasting during a brief period… beware lest desire deprive you of this grace that is appointed in the Book.

So, maybe it doesn’t need to get easier, as I don’t want to be deprived of “this grace”. 

I heard a joke once which goes “The biggest drawback to fasting for seven days is that it makes one weak.” Haha! Yeah that’s funny, I get it, but in all seriousness becoming weak is the whole point, and fasting is a great opportunity for us to actually exercise and strengthen what I like to call our ‘spiritual muscles’. There’s no point in just thinking and talking about how we need to work on and develop qualities such as ‘detachment’ or ‘humility’ if we’re not able to put ourselves to the test in real, everyday circumstances. Baha’u’llah says:

It is incumbent upon every man of insight and understanding to strive to translate that which hath been written into reality and action. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings, p. 250)

So, when we’re exhausted, thirsty and hungry, it often quickly becomes apparent what shortcomings or attributes we need to work on, and we can look at the fast as a period of time where, for 19 days, we have an opportunity to really rev-up the strengthening of our ‘spiritual muscles’ in a more concentrated and intense way.

I thought it would be interesting to reflect on just four of the ‘spiritual muscles’ (or qualities) the fast has helped me strengthen, and I’m sure many of you can relate to these as well.

1. Discipline

Oh yes, there’s no doubt about that! Having to refrain from food and drink between sunrise and sunset, while still carrying on with our daily lives, and making sure we’re up before sunrise everyday to say our prayers and eat can be hard. But as the saying goes ‘no pain, no gain’ right?

Baha’u’lláh clearly explains:

Even though outwardly the Fast is difficult and toilsome, yet inwardly it is bounty and tranquillity. Purification and training are conditioned and dependent only on such rigorous exercises as are in accord with the Book of God and sanctioned by Divine law… Whatsoever God hath revealed is beloved of the soul.  (Baha’u’lláh, The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting, XVI)

Abdu’l-Baha also explained:

The mind and spirit of man advance when he is tried by suffering. The more the ground is ploughed the better the seed will grow, the better the harvest will be. Just as the plough furrows the earth deeply, purifying it of weeds and thistles, so suffering and tribulation free man from the petty affairs of this worldly life until he arrives at a state of complete detachment. His attitude in this world will be that of divine happiness. Man is, so to speak, unripe: the heat of the fire of suffering will mature him. Look back to the times past and you will find that the greatest men have suffered most. (Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha)

2. Detachment

The Fast definitely helps us practice detachment, and whether you’re rich or poor, or somewhere in between, attachment is something we are all tested by. Abdu’l-Baha explains this in the quote below:

Our greatest efforts must be directed towards detachment from the things of the world; we must strive to become more spiritual, more luminous, to follow the counsel of the Divine Teaching, to serve the cause of unity and true equality, to be merciful, to reflect the love of the Highest on all men, so that the light of the Spirit shall be apparent in all our deeds, to the end that all humanity shall be united, the stormy sea thereof calmed, and all rough waves disappear from off the surface of life’s ocean henceforth unruffled and peaceful. (Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 87)

And again, Abdu’l-Baha expresses the importance of detachment in a prayer:

O God, my God! Fill up for me the cup of detachment from all things, and in the assembly of Thy splendours and bestowals, rejoice me with the wine of loving Thee. Free me from the assaults of passion and desire, break off from me the shackles of this nether world…        (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 174)

3. Gratitude and Servitude

Oh how good does it feels to drink some water, and dig into a meal after a day of fasting! Even something you may not normally have much of a taste for, tastes oh so good!

The fast definitely helps us feel a sense of gratitude for what we often take for granted, and it helps us become more compassionate towards those who are without. Baha’u’lláh wrote:

All praise be unto God, Who hath… enjoined on them the Fast that those possessed of means may become apprised of the woes and sufferings of the destitute. (Baha’u’lláh in The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting)

And feeling grateful also has positive consequences, as numerous studies have shown that a sense of gratitude encourages and generates a behaviour of giving. There are also a number of studies which point out that a sense of gratitude even affects our physical health in a positive way. Baha’u’llah says:

Blessed is the one who through the heat generated by the Fast increaseth his love, and who, with joy and radiance, ariseth to perform worthy deeds. (Baha’u’llah in The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting)

4. Humility

The Baha’i Writings stress the importance of humility:

They who are the beloved of God, in whatever place they gather and whomsoever they may meet, must evince, in their attitude towards God, and in the manner of their celebration of His praise and glory, such humility and submissiveness that every atom of the dust beneath their feet may attest the depth of their devotion. The conversation carried by these holy souls should be informed with such power that these same atoms of dust will be thrilled by its influence. (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 7) 

In my opinion, by fasting we learn a sense of humility in two major ways:

First of all, fasting reminds us of how vulnerable and weak we are as human beings. Humanity has come so far and has advanced technologically, and in so many other ways. We’ve learnt to try and tame the earth and our environment to serve us, so at times it’s pretty easy to forget the Creator and just how vulnerable we actually are. However, through the fast our vulnerabilities are exposed and it can really bring us to our knees, quickly reminding us of how insignificant and vulnerable we actually are. Baha’u’llah wrote:

Humility exalteth man to the heaven of glory and power, whilst pride abaseth him to the depths of wretchedness and degradation. (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 64)

Secondly, at times during the fast, I catch myself slipping into a mental state of mind where I either start to feel sorry for myself, and in a certain sense, I start to see myself as a victim because I can’t eat and drink like all the others can. I also find myself feeling quite the opposite of this at times as well, where I start to pride myself in the fact that ‘I’m so tough’ because I’m refraining from food and drink while all those around me consume it. Pathetic I know, but it gets reinforced when everyone says: “Oh, I don’t know how you do it! I could never do that! You’re really strong!” Both of course go against the spirit of fasting and relate to the ego. Shoghi Effendi explains the ego as being:

…the dark, animalistic heritage each one of us has, the lower nature that can develop into a monster of selfishness, brutality, lust and so on. It is this self we must struggle against, or this side of our natures, in order to strengthen and free the spirit within us and help it to attain perfection. (From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, December 10, 1947)

So fasting gives us an opportunity to battle the ego and work on strengthening our ‘spiritual muscles’. I know there are many more attributes fasting helps us with, and it would be great to hear about these, and how fasting has helped you personally in this regard, so feel free to share them in the ‘Comments’ section below.

I’ll sign-off by leaving us with this wonderful quote from a prayer by Baha’u’llah:

Praised be Thou, O God, my God!  These are the days whereon Thou hast enjoined Thy chosen ones, Thy loved ones and Thy servants to observe the Fast, which Thou hast made a light unto the people of Thy kingdom…

About the Author

Naysan is the editor of Baha'i Blog and he has worked in various avenues of media for two decades. He’s passionate about using the arts and media to support and explore the teachings of the Baha’i Faith and he has produced and collaborated on popular music projects like the "DawnBreaker Collective" and the successful Ruhi-inspired sequence of "MANA" albums. His experience as a producer for CNN was invaluable while working on a number of special projects for the Baha’i World Centre, including the "Building Momentum" and "Pilgrimage: A Sacred Experience" videos. If there’s a media-related Baha’i project out there, chances are that Naysan was involved with it somehow!

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Discussion 37 Comments

  1. Hi,
    I’m sorry to say that, but in all honesty, i cannot remember any one of my so far 35 years as a Baha’i for which I can say observing the fast has brought me joy. It has mostly been utter torture, precipitating me in depths of depression that I do not want to get into anymore. I would rather age drugged and stupid than “holy” and tortured like that. Maybe a little feeling of victory once in a while, in a fleeting moment. And, ‘technically” speaking, I have done it “right” only once. Other years were almost “perfect”, but not totally. Very hard for the perfectionnist I was.

    I have concluded, more than 15 years ago now, that I cannot do the fast. And I hate when Baha’is ask me:”Hey! How’s your fast going?!!!…”, with a big smile. I’ve come to stay away from the ones who show a smiling face with too much Hollywood in it. If I had the truthfullness of saying to them that I was going thru hell, they would serve me almost a severe look and tell me how beneficial it is to them. Well, I’ve never liked millionaires driving their Ferraris in the slums… or shaking they money in front of the poor… even if they are not wickedly doing so, but just unaware of the insult.

    I wish there were place where depressed Baha’is (we are quite a lot, unfortunately) could express how they truly feel and their visins of the Baha’i Faith, but also of how tough it is to be expected to be as cheerfull-hollywoody as most. And as long as there will not be enough really competent and affordable baha’i professional therapists, I wish for, I call for a greater measure of respect and understanding from the “spiritual athletes” of the Baha’i world.

    Now, Naysan, this is nothing against you personnally. I just happened to have been taken here through Facebook and too many sickeningly positive comments on the wonders of the fast.

    1. Hi Alain, I’m sorry to hear that you feel that way about the fast and I appreciate your honesty. Baha’u’llah has made it clear that not everyone should fast. I agree that it’s hard, and that was one of the points of my article, but as mentioned in the article, going through hardships can also be beneficial for us:

      “Even though outwardly the Fast is difficult and toilsome, yet inwardly it is bounty and tranquillity. Purification and training are conditioned and dependent only on such rigorous exercises as are in accord with the Book of God and sanctioned by Divine law…” -Baha’u’llah

      But perhaps it’s not for everyone, and it is one of the laws of Baha’u’llah which is left up to the individual. There have been times when I wasn’t able to physically fast due to medical reasons, but I still tried to choose one attribute during those 19 days which I tried to focus on and work on.

      I’m not sure if I’ve experienced “a smiling face with too much Hollywood in it”, but I try not to worry too much about others and I try to stay focused on my own growth, as I still have a long way to go.

      Regarding Baha’i therapists, I’m not sure why you would need to have a ‘Baha’i’ therapist specifically, as there are many great professionals out there whom I’m sure can help Alain. I’ve also gone through a lot of difficulties in my life and have found therapy to be a great help, regardless of the therapists religion, so I hope you’re able to find someone who can help you get through things.

      1. Hi, Naysan,
        I am very grateful for your reply with so much sense and sensitivity. Guess I needed that, tonught. I thank God for having sent me here. I have to go sleep, but will be back here.

        Thank you!

        Alain

    2. Hello Alain!

      Thank you for your honesty! This reminds me of a lesson that was not easily learned by me either: To accept that I cannot do many things as well as others can due to personal limitations. In exchange I have ability to do some things to a better degree than others. This is a logical consequence to human individualiy. A logical consequence of the prettier garden due to a variety of flowers. What we need to learn is to accept others comfort with things we find uncomfortable, and not become envious observing it. Turned around in the disciplines that are our favourites we should not look down upon those deprived of them. And to forgive those who have not yet arrived at that conciousness.

      Love, Tanja

  2. While researching a talk for a community devotional just before The Fast a couple of years ago, I came across this quote from ‘Abdu’l-Baha, which I thought many who are not able to fast would appreciate:

    “Some people lay stress on fasting. They affirm that in augmenting the weakness of the body they develop a spiritual sensibility and thus they think to approach God.

    Weakening one’s self physically does not necessarily contribute to spiritual progress. Humility, kindness, resignation, and all these spiritual attributes emanating from great physical strength are acceptable to God. That an enfeebled man cannot fight is not accounted a virtue. Were physical weakness a virtue the dead would be perfect, for they can do nothing.

    If a man be just, kind, humble and merciful and his qualities are acquired through the will-power — this is Godlike. A child cannot kill a man; but a Bonaparte can abstain from war, from shedding blood, from devastating countries. A dumb person will not speak ill of any one, a paralyzed hand cannot strike; but a strong arm can refrain from striking. Justice, love and kindness must be the instruments of strength, not of weakness.

    Exaggerated fasting destroys the divine forces. God has created man in a way that cannot be surpassed; we must not try to change his creation. Strive to attain nearness to reality through the acquisition of strength of character, through morality, through good works and helping the poor, through being consumed with the fire of the love of God and in discovering each day new spiritual mysteries. This is the path of intimate approach.”

    –Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, pp. 98-99

    Certainly we are commanded by Baha’u’llah to pray and fast, commandments which are given purely for our benefit. But reading the above quote opened my eyes to the possibility that there’s more than one way to fast. For those whose physical constitution, ailments, advanced age or circumstances do not permit physical fasting, intentionally striving to be kind, humble, merciful, moral, do good works, help the poor, increase one’s love of God and discover “new spiritual mysteries” are beautiful forms of participating in the true spirit of The Fast.

    Sincerely,
    Ginny Staubach

    1. Dear Ginny,

      Thanks for that amazing quote which I haven’t read before. Balance and moderation indeed. What balance the Faith once again teaches. If read in the context of the other verses shared by Naysan (especially the one by Baha’u’llah on the divinely intended “difficulty” and “toilsomeness” of fasting), the rigours of fasting are necessary as a *reminder* of detachment, humility and of those that are destitute. But the Baha’is are not fakirs. There is no virtue in rigours for their own sake. Otherwise we would be no different from the fakirs that are on a constant quest for more painful self-inflicted rigours. No fruit comes out of suffering that is sustained for its own sake.

      “How many a man hath secluded himself in the climes of India, denied himself the things that God hath decreed as lawful, imposed upon himself austerities and mortifications, and hath not been remembered by God, the Revealer of Verses. Make not your deeds as snares wherewith to entrap the object of your aspiration, and deprive not yourselves of this Ultimate Objective for which have ever yearned all such as have drawn nigh unto God.” (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, par. 36)

      Warm regards from snow-covered Finland!

      Sam

      1. This Fast, I finally looked up the root of the word “prostrated” as in this quote from one of the Fasting prayers:
        “Suffer me not, O my Lord, to be reckoned among them who have fasted in the daytime, who in the night-season have prostrated themselves before Thy face, and who have repudiated Thy truth, disbelieved in Thy signs, gainsaid Thy testimony, and perverted Thine utterances.” (Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations by Baha’u’llah, p. 80)
        The root of the word “prostrate” is to “weaken”. It struck me how loving our Lord truly is… and even though the Fast does bring suffering, it appears to me that He is equating further weakening ourselves by not eating well in the night-season with “repudiating His truth, disbelieving in His signs, gainsaying His testimony, and perverting His utterances.”
        So guess what I do??? 🙂 I eat amazingly well!!! Much better than in years past. It’s been interesting to see how it has helped me maintain my equanimity during the day.

  3. Hi Alain,

    You are right, happiness should not be fake. Like Naysan said, please don’t feel bad about not fasting. The fasting isn’t supposed to be fun, but neither should a Baha’i tell another to fast or else be miserable. ‘Abdu’l-Baha said, “be happy, be happy, be happy”. Genuinely. I haven’t met many Baha’is who fake their happiness. But I agree that wealth and Western “civilization” has often come at the expense of smiles. The kinds that are radiant and innocent rather than pretentious and pasted on the face.

    Out of all the 30 “developing” countries I’ve visited and worked in, Afghanistan stirred me to my depths. Regardless of ethnic background, gender or age, most Afghans display amazing fortitude, friendliness, entrepeneurship and hopefulness. The initially grim countenances of bearded men often enshroud an exceedingly polite gentleman whose child-like curiosity knows no bounds. Quite regardless of their burqas, Afghan women often prove chatty, loud and even bossy epitomes of human survival. Behind the submissive masks of rural women lie cheerfully chattering exemplars of grit and tenacity that quickly resume their subservient roles in the presence of men. Depressed and downhearted faces remain a rarity although by Western reckoning virtually every Afghan ought to suffer from some sort of dire privation, lack, exploitation or oppression. While many Afghans have witnessed unspeakable crimes against humanity from their earliest childhood, they have time and again proven surprisingly gentle in demeanour, soulful, sensible and sobre-minded. Large families, great communal bonds, a brutal sense of humour and a strong faith in humane religious values have provided a stronghold for many, shielding them from complete psychological breakdown. Lesser traumas in “more developed” countries have driven scores for life-confinement in a mental institution.

    In sum, I agree. What’s with the polished faces, the bleeched teeth and the seductive poses, if they lack heart and soul? The most gnarled face of a one-toothed grandpa shines with the beauty of Paradise Itself.

    Whenever it is wreathed with a sincere smile.

    “The light of a good character surpasseth the light of the sun and the radiance thereof. Whoso attaineth it is accounted as a jewel among men.”(Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, Tarázát, p. 36)

    Wishing you good health, joy and happiness!

    Sam

  4. I liked this sentence in particular, and it reminds me of what happens to couples raising their kids in the first exhausting years :). Very educating about oneself and the relationship, but in this case more through sleep depriviation! Citing the author: “So, when we’re exhausted, thirsty and hungry, it often quickly becomes apparent what shortcomings or attributes we need to work on, and we can look at the fast as a period of time where, for 19 days, we have an opportunity to really rev-up the strengthening of our ‘spiritual muscles’ in a more concentrated and intense way.”

  5. Thank you for sharing your perspectives everybody and thanks for your post Naysan. Whatever anyone thinks of fasting it is evident here that the period of fasting seems to be inspiring lots of deep thought and learning :-))))

  6. Alain, you are not alone. I have spent years dreading the Fast, and then becoming depressed because it was too difficult to master —– and when I did manage to do it, I ended up with stomach problems and mouth sores. This is the first year I haven’t felt guilty; I can now accept that it’s something I can’t do, and Naw Ruz is just around the corner!

    Be happy, Carolyn

  7. Every February the anxiety as the Fast approaches increases for me and every year I feel a little sad when it is over. This is one of the mysteries of the Fast.

    One thing that fasting has always brought up for me is the issue of feeling weak and incapable. Yes, it is certainly a door into our humility but it is also an opportunity to learn to accept myself as I am and quell the perfectionism, negative self talk and self reproach and enter a state of acceptance and gratitude for the gifts that are stronger within me and how they can be used in service to the good.

    Accepting that we are not perfect is a wonderful freedom and getting to the end of the Fast accepting what was good about it, rather that feeling guilty about not being perfect, is a gift that lasts all the year. Even though I may not strictly follow the Fast perfectly on any given day, I can still feel great joy for the period of the Fast and I look back on each struggle as something to hold dear.

    There have been years where I have been unable to keep the Fast at all, yet I have found that saying the beautiful prayers and really allowing them to envelop my being (“Cause me to taste, O my Lord, the Divine Sweetness of Thy remembrance and praise,”) has been something I really cherish and has given me a sense of great love for the period of the Fast.

    “Thou seest me, O my God, holding to Thy Name, the Most Holy, the Most Luminous, the Most Mighty, the Most Great, the Most Exalted, the Most Glorious, and clinging to the hem of the robe to which have clung all in this world and in the world to come.” Isn’t the dawn a magical time during the Fast!

    There is also a collective mystery to the Fast, I believe, in that we are united in spirit in a profound way as a community, knowing that every Baha’i, regardless of how easy or difficult the physical part is and whether it is kept or not, is also struggling to grow in a spiritual sense during this time. It’s a truly beautiful thing!

  8. I am an overeater. Yesterday during the fast I became aware of feelings I usually would have blocked by covering them with food. After I cried my depression lifted. I actually began to like the feeling of not being stuffed with food. I can remember some years of although not doing it perfectly, I didn’t want the fast to end.

  9. Fasting is simply not something everybody can do for a variety of reasons. In the Kitab-I-Aqdas there are exceptions for this. God never wants us to do something that is going to cause us physical or mental harm. Nobody should feel like they have failed because they have not participated in the fast. It’s a very difficult thing to do. Usually by 3pm I’m not the happiest person on the planet! I admit it! I’m ready to naw the furniture and my thoughts are focused on cheeseburgers not spiritual qualities. Tanja use the period of the fast to create! Create a teaching plan for yourself for the upcoming year, create a prayer journal, create something for the freinds in your community. Create something that will help you develop a spiritual quality you feel you need. I know many freinds that simply cannot fast for various reasons and they create and serve instead. I will keep you in my prayers!

  10. Hi Sam, Thanks for your comment and I’m so glad you enjoyed that quote from Abdu’l-Baha! Many in my community have found it comforting. I very much appreciate the quote you shared from the Kitab-i-Aqdas, also! Your reply to Alain is beautiful. I love hearing of your experiences with the people in Afghanistan, how wonderful! Perhaps you should post your own blog! Happy fasting, and stay warm in snow-covered Finland!

    Naysan, you’ve certainly stirred up a lot of great discussion and sharing with your wonderful post. Thank you!

    1. Hi Ginny!

      Thanks for your kind words. Actually, I do have a blog at Bnet which is clickable through my name. It’s called “Song of the Nightingale” (in reference to the “Divine Nightingale” of course).

      Two years in Afghanistan were the most meaningful and happiest in my (and my whole family’s) life. In the rural areas we really got a glimpse of the lifestyle and mindset of Persians at the Dawn-Breakers — as that period portrays an Iran not too different from rural Afghanistan today. For good and for ill.

      Please keep on contributing here. You have a lot to offer!

      Sam

  11. Such a useful post and comments. Sending thanks and appreciation to Naysan for posting and Alain for her courage in being honest.

  12. A Simple mathematic Conclusion:

    1- Since, the humanity is one reality, as Baha’u’llah says: “ye are the drops of one ocean…”,
    2- And since every good deed effects every created things “I think I read it in Ruhi books..),
    3- And since obligatory prayer and fasting are the pillars of religion, as Baha’u’llah tells us in the Kitab-i-Aghdas, “Verily, the religion of God is like unto heaven; fasting is its sun, and obligatory prayer is its moon. In truth, they are the pillars of religion …”,

    Therefore, I conclude that when we say the obligatory prayer and practice the Fast, we’re actually promoting the Faith by holding its pillars strong among all created things, specially our own “dropmates!”, in our own ocean.

    Hence, I feel it is a previllage and honour that Baha’u’llah has given us to carry such a tremendous and significant responsibility, which last a short time for us, and yet, effects all created things for the rest of eternity!

    And that my friend, keeps me press onward. Despite the hunger & the irritability…><

    Bahiyyih

  13. Good morning

    Not only the article, but also the comments, make this page of value.

    Am one of those who have no great problem going without food or water for the day, though, because of certain health issues, need to be very careful regarding dehydration, so do have some water at times. Even outside of the days of the Fast, my wife must often remind me to eat and take water.

    Over the years, have lost count of the number of people who say things to the affect of how lucky I am. Which demonstrates a more physical view of the Fast than the spiritual benefits. There are quotes above which bring the spiritual aspect forward as the most important aspect.

    We but do our best, and in the Hands of God remains the rest:

    “Since Thou hast adorned them, O my Lord, with the ornament of the fast prescribed by Thee, do Thou adorn them also with the ornament of Thine acceptance, through Thy grace and bountiful favor. For the doings of men are all dependent upon Thy good-pleasure, and are conditioned by Thy behest. Shouldst Thou regard him who hath broken the fast as one who hath observed it, such a man would be reckoned among them who from eternity had been keeping the fast. And shouldst Thou decree that he who hath observed the fast hath broken it, that person would be numbered with such as have caused the Robe of Thy Revelation to be stained with dust, and been far removed from the crystal waters of this living Fountain.” (Prayers and Meditations by Baha’u’llah, p. 67)

    With warmest greetings

    Romane

  14. Wow. I agree what a wonderful post (included quotes not seen before) and what authentic and heart touching responses.
    I got off to a lousy start this year and dropped out of the fast after 1 day depressed +++ Got back on the wagon today after being encouraged reading ‘Buddhism without Beliefs’ by Stephen Batchelor again. In it (p8) he writes “To understand a worry is to know it calmly and clearly for what it is: transient, contingent, and devoid of intrinsic identity”. This helped me view my marital difficulty in a new light. My marriage, to a Baha’i, is almost loveless in human terms and I feel trapped unable to go forwards (and rekindle the love that died years ago) or backwards (and leave the marriage – an act so displeasing to God). We are two sincere Baha’is with totally different takes on almost every issue, trapped in a relationship and trying to salvage some meaning to our suffering. The point I want to make by citing these personal difficulties is that I was authentic with myself, admitted I couldn’t do it and tried to be compassionate with myself. By the Grace of God I have regained some measure of composure. Hopefully it will be sustained a decent length of time ….
    Thanks everyone above for your beautiful honesty!

  15. I became a Baha’i almost exactly 30 years ago, sometime between Naw-Ruz and Ridvan. I know it must have been during that period because I didn’t fast, and I did vote. I declared with almost no real knowledge of the Faith or the Teachings, and little acquaintance with Baha’u’llah or the Bab, or the Writings. The great mystery of my life is not why I am Baha’i, but how: let’s call it blundering towards the light.

    For the first several years I couldn’t fast. Like Alain, I was dealing with depression, and lack of sleep was (and remains) a trigger for me. I would try my best, but after a few days I would have to admit that this was doing no one, least of all me, any good. But every year I could extend the amount of time I fasted and now, thank God, I am able to carry out the full month. It’s never easy — I become very jealous and protective of my sleep — but it has now been at least a couple of decades for me.

    I live in a community where many members have serious health problems or other challenges, and frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of the friends don’t fast for one reason or another. Only those who know if you are fasting will ask “How is the fast for you this year?”, and no one is put off (let alone judgmental) if the answer is “I’m not actually fasting this year.”

    In a few years I’ll be exempt on the basis of age — well, not a few few, but not a whole whole lot either — and then I will have to wonder how to keep the Fast when I am not abstaining. Probably I’ll construct something that feels Fast-y to me; maybe I’ll get up at the early hour, eat only at lunch time, stay hydrated, and refrain from “recreational” eating. It will always be important for me to mark this time out from the rest of the year, to remember that we are entering The Most Great Prison, and to focus on the spiritual realities of the Fast. Physical privation of some description is an external reminder of an immaterial reality, and a reminder that these days culminate in a spiritual springtime.

    Honestly, though I do find fasting challenging, I am small enough to admit that one of the great joys of Naw-Ruz is that first daytime coffee … absolute nectar. And how could I feel such delight if I had not spent the previous month without? It may be petty, but I regard this pleasure as one of the real gifts of the Fast: the joy of returning to a world that is so full of delights and so rejuvenating.

    Thank you for a wonderful article; thoughtful, gentle, provocative in the best way, and uplifting.

    1. Thank you Anne for your kind words and for sharing your experiences. I’m so glad so many people have found this post useful.

      I really like what you mention in regards to constructing “something that feels Fast-y to me; maybe I’ll get up at the early hour, eat only at lunch time, stay hydrated, and refrain from “recreational” eating” as I can really relate to this and I think this is the key. There were times when I couldn’t fast from food or water because I was on medication, but I tried to do what I could in regards to physical acts of restraint throughout the day, but it took a awhile for me to really get this…

      Often we feel that if we’re not fasting from food or drink, then the whole deal is off, and that’s a shame because we’re missing the point as it’s not just about the food. I wrote an post about this very thing when we first started Baha’i Blog a couple of fasts ago in case it’s of ineterest: http://bahaiblog.net/2011/03/20/fasting-so-its-not-just-about-food/#more-902

      Thanks again for your comment Anne!

  16. Notwithstanding that the fast can at times be irkesome, your have to embrace it like paying Huquq’u’llah – with a purposeful joy and detachment.
    Benefits of fasting would also include purposefulness, mindfulness, patience and joy.

    For me, I think of the slight discomfort of mild hunger and thirst as a little puppy running along side me, yapping and playful, tugging at my sleeve to remind me to keep focused on my attitudes and behaviour. We start the day with only watermelon which, though you might imagine would be insufficient, actually holds us well all through the day. But the pre-occupation with food and drink seems unfortunate and reminds me of a drowning man, gasping for air when faced with the inevitable. Instead you simply embrace the fast as your deliberate choice, and all the angst evaporates just as a quiet calm comes upon someone resigned to drowning (only a metaphor to help illustrate of course).

    And each year we use the same mechanism to highlight our environmenal behaviours – reducing power and water, minimsing packaging an waste, eating locally grown produce and using public transport wherever possible.

    Yesterday we had a community picnic which also included a baha’i couple re-affirming their baha’i vows. We waited until our numerous non-fasting non-Baha’i guests had enjoyed the feast in the late afternoon, before joining them. They were amazed at the consistent resilience and then calm demeanour of the community, despite it being 90oF…

    Of course if you can’t fast because you get sick, then don’t, but don’t think of it as some sort of endurance test. In the end it is your attitude that counts, and God alone is the measure of that.

  17. I have been a Baha’i for over 42 years and have not once voluntarily ‘Fasted’ during all those years. It troubled me that I was not fulfilling the requirement to fast as I had been advised very strongly by my Doctor not to fast. It was not until 1979 when I went on Pilgrimage that my anxieties over the fast were put to rest.
    I spoke to Dr David Ruhe (a member of the UHJ & a Physician) over my feelings. His reply was that as I had been advised by my Doctor not to ever fast, then to do so would be to break the law of the fast. He said that we should think of the fast as a tool to take our minds away from our body’s physical wants and to spend our time during the day to think spiritually and act accordingly.
    Party to this conversation was Hand of the Cause Mr ‘Ali-Akbar Furutan. He said that one could always eat and drink simply during the day, in effect cutting back on extravagance. It was a matter of entering into the “spirit of the Fast” that one was fulfiling one’s obligation to that law. He went on to say that many of the friends concentrated too much on the letter of the law and missed the spirit of God’s revealed laws.

  18. Mahalo Nayson for this blog on the fast and everyone who contributed to the discussion. I hope Alain has found comfort and ease from the thoughtful contributions of so many. God bless you all in this wonderful day that we live in. I’m so grateful that I am a Baha’i, that the Creator has seen fit for me to recognize the Promised One for this day, easing our journey through this earthly existence.

  19. Thank you SO MUCH, Naysan, for having posted this piece that triggered me to say openly how I felt.
    Apart from the value of your post by itself, came your reply and then ALL the following ones and I’m
    filled with gratitude, now!

    Keeping things simple:
    THANK YOU! To ALL of you!

    Alain ( : ^ )

  20. Thank you Naysan for this really good article.

    My thoughts during the fast usually have to do with the power of Divine assistance. I am personally of very low discipline when it comes to physical regiments. For example I could never diet, I can’t keep to a regular excercise schedule. My no-sugar lifestyle challenge when I was particulary of low energy some years ago lasted but 2 or 3 days at most. I have to have 3 meals a day and on days when I had a really stressful work week and didn’t have time to eat, even postponing to eating lunch at 3pm would make me dizzy and woozy, irritable and grumpy. To top it all off I have low blood pressure. Then comes fasting time and a miracle happens. What I found impossible before becomes all of a sudden doable and then my problem almost becomes the opposite, I have to find something particularly difficult to do so that it becomes a source of growth and not a situation where one just goes through the motions thereby missing out on its discipline inducing properties. So a particularly torturous part of fasting for me is waking up at dawn for breakfast and prayers. And I have to repeat to myself the affirmation ‘with joy and radiance’ (referring to Tom Price’s talk) and invoking the power of Divine assistance to help me get through that horrific part. Because at the end of the day, it is through clinging to Baha’u’llah’s hem and not through our own powers that we survive it at all, so learning to ‘not heed your weakness and frailty’ is the key to me.

    The other aspect of fasting I was thinking about is as a metaphor, in relation to the difficult classical language with which the writings are written and how the question in countless Ruhi courses and deepenings by frustrated participants has been asked, ‘but why aren’t the quotations in simpler language?’. Shoghi Effendi’s answer to this was that the friends should strive to rise up and meet the standards of the language of the Faith rather than the language being watered down to meet the friends. In the same way, the situations in which we are exempt from the fast is very clearly written in the Aqdas. For the rest of us, we should hold on the belief that Baha’u’llah would not have given us a law that we are not capable of observing for He is just and merciful. When it feels impossible, we should with kindness and mercy talk to ourselves and ask ‘what is my resistance to this’? What is it that makes it depressing and torturous? Sometimes it may not be a spiritual block but rather an emotional one. I also had to consult a psychologist for many years to understand what those blocks were for example in my quest to stop criticising others. I found that I had such self loathing that I projected this outwards and found everyone else to be as enemies to me and as defective as I felt. I found that due to my beliefs about not being worthy for any good in my life, I would unconsciously sabotage my own spiritual growth because I felt I didn’t deserve it. Etc etc. Everyone’s issues are different, but those were mine. This was the search and those were the questions I had to pose to myself with the quest to understand myself kindly rather than to blame myself. This helped me immensly in my spiritual duties. To sum up, these issues are between oneself and God and noone from the outside can see our struggles but ourselves. And again referring to Tom’s talks and him quoting Abdu’l-Baha ‘little by little, day by day’ and very important, to remove the guilt that only serves to paralyse us and acknowledge our human-ness.

    And I agree with Naysan, I am a Bahai psychologist myself but the psychologist I went to was not and it changed my life even with regards to my spiritual growth.

    Happy Naw Ruz everyone!

  21. Please God dont end this fast with its buffet of spiritual opportunities,,,to get up before dawn is the pattern of Bahai Life in the future,I imagine our Beloved taking attendance of those enthusiastic lovers,The sun of fasting shines do you choose the shade?Only He knows an judges accordingly But we cant. so go with the flow an Just Do It as best we can with His help. This preparation this training is for a year of service…How you do depends on how much help you get transforming yourself in the fertile soil of the Fast…every hour pay attention to the promised virtue ,Nothing in my Bahai life is more disrupting than the Fast reminding me that I need to become accustomed to such assaults to change myself from what I am to something more worthy.The Master ate only once a day as He fasted,,,dream on. 40 yrs ago we were fasting carrying logs in the full sun until each of us dropped spending the rest of the day immobile,the codification hadnt come out with exemption for hard labor,so we suffered an our community of interest became puzzled seeing the fast done incorrectly This year I took notice how sometimes when The Most Exalted & the All Glorious are used together they refer to the Bab & Baha’u’lllah…therefore The most Holy Abraham Luminous Moses Mighty Jesus & Great Muhammad…havin fun with the Fast Aloha

  22. This is such a wonderful post, thank you so much for taking the time to write it. I am still a very new Baha’i and have not been able to connect with my community yet, so it is a wonderful experience to ‘listen’ to how others feel and think.

    Yesterday was the first day of my first fast (previously I have been too ill). On reflection of my day at 9pm, I felt so overwhelmed by the spiritual power and the divine blessings I received throughout the day that I cried and cried. I actually felt a little frightened to see such clear evidence of god’s love for me. It was frightening because this intangible and abstract concept is thoroughly pondered but the only evidence we have is faith. I imagine it is the type of fear one would feel on seeing a ghost. My tears was also tears of joy and tears of relief. I have never in my life felt that someone loved me. My parents were wonderful, but they were atheists and living with such hardship and depression, they were olympians at detachment when it came to their kids. I felt really loved and cared for and safe yesterday.

    At about 11am I started to feel hungry, so I figured I’d go an fill myself up with prayer, and it worked a treat. I didn’t feel hungry anymore. I did suffer a dreadful thirst however. With this thirst came detachment, humility, compassion, gratitude, I was so happy, and that first drink of water, how beautiful.

    You mentioned discipline. I guess I had been very lucky here. I was unable to fast in the first two years of being a Baha’i as I was recovering from alcoholism and suffering Past Traumatic Stress Disorder after having worked in the Immigration Detention Centre on Christmas Island. I felt that I was missing out by not being able to fast. I was desperate for the grace that was appointed in the book that Baha’u’llah had mentioned. So I was relieved from the need for discipline.

    Day two of the fast and I really feel very fatigued. I must stop sit, lie and pray. I am so grateful for this. As I am currently in a mania phase of Bipolar, I am so happy to stop, just stop. This in itself a freedom. Thank you.

  23. Thank you for the informative article and the comments are quite enlightening.
    I’m hoping that I might get some guidance here:
    What is your opinion on sex during the Fast; obviously not while fasting but after sunset? It may seem an odd question but I’m curious to see if anyone else feels the way I do….mainly that it’s in contradiction to the whole concept of fast; getting close to God, becoming more spiritual, “abstinence from selfish and carnal desires”, etc.
    While completely understanding the importance of moderation, does anyone else feel that going without sex for 19 days won’t kill them and might actually be spiritually beneficial?
    Thank you

    1. Hi Mona, I’m personally not aware of any law which forbids sex during the fast after sunset and have not seen anything on this. The physical aspects of the fast are merely a reminder of the spiritual significance and I personally think we can easily get caught up on the form rather than the spirit behind why we fast. I often find that we (myself included) think that if we’re eating during the day (say for medical reasons) during the time of the fast, then it means we’re not fasting. But I don’t think this is the right attitude to have, and I explain it in an article here. Shoghi Effendi explains that “It is essentially a period of meditation and prayer, of spiritual recuperation, during which the believer must strive to make the necessary readjustments in his inner life, and to refresh and reinvigorate the spiritual forces latent in his soul. Its significance and purpose are, therefore, fundamentally spiritual in character. Fasting is symbolic, and a reminder of abstinence from selfish and carnal desires.”

      So I guess it’s up to the individual to decide whether they feel this would impede on their own personal efforts to “make the necessary readjustments in his inner life, and to refresh and reinvigorate the spiritual forces latent in his soul”. I’d also be interested to see if there is any guidance on this, but from what I can tell, it seems like it’s left up to the individual.

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