Monday, April 07, 2008

The Monks Fast

When most people think of a fast, they think of something like a hunger strike, but historically this is incorrect. The traditional Christian fast doesn't involve complete deprivation of food; otherwise people would not have been able to fast for 40 days over Lent for example.

Rather, a traditional fast involves eating nothing but bread, broth (usually barley broth, perhaps with some pork), water, and beer (which was considered something like liquid bread) during the day (as in the daylight hours); and after dark, a plain, simple meal of porridge, or rice, or something similar, and if available some protein or fat.

This fast regimen deprived one of the luxury of richer food; but provided enough nutritive value and energy, to allow for a full days work.

The purpose of this during lent of course was to show devotion, and to refocus ones self on the spiritual rather than the physical; but the fast wasn't simply for Lent. There are monks who had fasts lasting for decades. Again though, the purpose was to improve focus.

Well, I've noted a distinct lack of focus in my life for the past few months; both literally and figuratively. I have had trouble focusing my attention on either work, or recreation; particularly my writing, but also my hobbies an other projects.

I'm the type of guy who generally starts something, then works all the way through it 'til I'm finished; but I haven't managed to finish a single one of my hobby projects in months; excepting building the new computers for myself, Mel, and the kids.

Particularly bad, I haven't been shooting since January; which is the longest I've gone without shooting since I moved back from Ireland nearly five years ago. Shooting is one of the ways I have always refocused myself. It is almost a kind of meditation for me.

Compounded with this is that my diet and exercise have slipped horribly in that time. I haven't maintained my diet at all; and my exercise level has been just as bad. As a consequence, I've managed to erase all the losses I had made over the previous year. I'm not back up to where I was at my heaviest; but I'm not happy with where I am.

Oh and I've only been to church... maybe three times in the past few months?

My energy levels are erratic; and seem to cycle randomly across time, food consumption, sleep, and activity levels (otherwise I'd be worried about diabetes, which runs in my family). My insomnia has been near the worst it's been in years.

I haven't picked up either of my guitars at all since Christmas; which has always been another for of meditation for me... In fact the only music I've been making, or much listening to, has been in "Rock Band"; which is fun and relaxing, but not really what I need in this context.

Worst of all mentally, excepting a surge over the last few weeks (brought on by worsening insomnia), I've barely been able to finish a book in months. Actually, since January, I've only managed to finish 12 books, and six of them have been in the last three weeks. My "to read" pile has grown to 16 linear feet of thickness (books stacked cover to cover) and is growing instead of shrinking.

That may not seem abnormal to you, but you've got to understand for me, that's like going blind. This is from a man whose primary means of stress relief is reading; and who has typically throughout his life read a full 300-400 page book, or the equivalent thereof, near every day.

So, I think it's clear, I need to refocus myself a bit.

Today, I've instituted my own version of the monks fast.

From today forward, until I reach my overriding goals (both physically, and otherwise); six days a week I am going to fast.

My diet will consist of two cups of chicken or beef broth, and a chunk of bread (2oz) with a pat of butter as a mid day meal; a cup of fruit juice in the morning, and a (16oz) mug of coffee or tea with milk and splenda in the morning and afternoon; and 10oz or less of a lean meat, and 8oz or less of a simple starch, bread, or legume to go with it for dinner.

I will also allow myself a reasonable amount of fresh fruit, and some cucumber, pickled or otherwise (there is very little nutritive value to cucumber -an entire large cucumber may have less than 50 calories - but I like the flavor and texture of it); for vitamins, and for variety.

Oh, and if I feel like it, a glass of Weihenstephaner, Franziskaner, or Agustiner Brau per night. After all, one must respect the tradition of liquid bread.

I will allow myself one day per week of "normal" intake; choosing whatever I might want, within reason; as one does on feast days during an extended fast. This will give me something to look forward to, act as a safety valve, and make sure I get the chance to eat out with my wife at least once a week.

I'll also allow myself a special exemption for my birthday (which is in three weeks), July 4th, Memorial Day, Labor Day, my daughters birthdays, Halloween, my wifes birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, new years, and Easter; which again would replicate the original practice of eating richly on feast days (which we generally no longer celebrate) during an extended fast.

I'm so specific about the requirements, because I've calculated that to be the minimum intake I can maintain, and still remain in good health; at somewhere between an absolute minimum of 1200 and 1600 calories a day depending (perhaps 1800 at most, with heavy exercise).

In addition, I am resuming my exercise regimen, consisting of at least 90 minutes of vigorous exercise per day except Sunday; including 20 minutes of stretching and warmup (light calisthenics mostly), and the remaining time split up as approximately 1/2 aerobic cardio-vascular training (calisthenics and exercise bike) , 1/4 power lifting, and 1/4 circuit training; most likely on alternating days.

In conjunction with that, I intend to resume attending church weekly, and to spend at least one hour every day reading offline, not related to my job.

What I'm hoping for is that my physical and mental energy levels and focus will balance out, and allow me to really get things done again. I may have to make some adjustments, but I think this is the right course, and my will is set on it.