I was terrified. There is no other way to describe it.
I gulped down more water, another bite of toast, and felt panic settle into my overstuffed belly: the sun was rising, and I was going to starve!
In my defense, I was 15 years old and already inclined to melodrama before becoming a teenager. But there was nothing insincere about the overwhelming nervousness I experienced as I watched the sunlight fill our family kitchen on the first day of my first fast.
As a child growing up in a Bahá'í family, I had watched my parents - and in later years my older siblings - take part in the annual fast that precedes our new year in the spring. I understood on an intellectual level the spiritual benefits of fasting from sunup to sundown for 19 days - how it helps us to focus on spiritual rather than earthly matters, how it allows extra time for prayer and reflection, how it leads to spiritual insights, and how it encourages a sense of togetherness among community members.
On an intellectual level.
On a gut level I was totally panicked. And now I was finally 15, considered the age of spiritual maturity in the Bahá'í Faith and the first time I was required to fast. As the first day of the Fast drew closer, I tried to think of excuses why I couldn't fast, but I didn't fall under any of the exceptions listed in the Bahá'í laws: I didn't do manual labor for a living, and I wasn't traveling, or pregnant, or ill, or elderly. In the end, all I could do was cross my fingers and hope that my period would come early (which, of course, it didn't).
And so I found myself, belly sloshing with too much water and food, watching the sunrise as if it were something out of a horror movie.
I went to school as normal and tried to concentrate, although I was feeling a bit queasy from nerves and all the food I had forced myself to eat early that morning. But the hours dragged on, and I survived. In fact, things seemed rather normal. I didn't feel faint or dizzy, as I had expected. To my relief, I actually felt fine.
My energy started to fade in the afternoon. I remember clearly sitting in my World Literature class, where we were reading - as fate would have it - Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. The teacher had allowed us some time for individual reading, so the classroom was still except for the occasional shuffling feet or bored cough.
Something happened to me that afternoon that I will never forget. As I read about the Buddha sitting under the Bodhi tree, something clicked - not just in my head, where I already knew the importance of renunciation for spiritual growth - but in my heart, where I had been too afraid to believe it. There was no angelic choir or dazzling radiance from above, but a quiet feeling of utter lightness filled me, and for the first time that day I relaxed and experienced a real sense of peace.
I still get very irritable when I fast, and I do find myself counting the days until it is over, but that sense of peace has never really left me. Mixed into the inevitable fatigue are also moments of insight and calm, when I can recapture the feeling from that day, and remember that, in the end, the body is just a body, and the spirit world is beautiful beyond our wildest imaginations. And that even a 15 year old drama queen can find moments of peace.
Note: As per the Bahá'í laws, I have not fasted for the past several years because I was either pregnant or nursing, but we have found other creative ways to share the spirit of the Fast with our two young children.
Leanna is a stay at home mother to a sweet, funny, rambunctious four year old boy and his adorable, smiley baby brother. She draws inspiration from the Writings of the Bahá'í Faith and tries to raise her Monkeys in a fun, spiritual, loving environment. She and her husband, who is from Costa Rica, are raising their boys to be bilingual and bicultural but more importantly to be "world citizens." All Done Monkey is dedicated to sharing this journey with you!
Leanna is the co-founder of Bahá'í Mom Blogs and founder of Multicultural Kid Blogs.
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