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The Baha’i Fast is fast approaching, and I have been thinking about its purpose and whether it’s OK to have more than one fasting goal. Can I add on new commitments to my Baha’i Fast?
Baha’is fast for 19 days every year, from sunrise to sunset. In 2021, the Baha’i Fast takes place between March 1 and March 19. The aim of the Baha’i Fast is primarily spiritual. Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, wrote:
Fasting is the supreme remedy and the most great healing for the disease of self and passion.
His son and designated successor, Abdu’l-Baha, also wrote that:
Fasting is the cause of the elevation of one’s spiritual station.
RELATED: Why Do Baha’is Fast Every Year?
I find it especially important to read and reflect on these words before and during the Baha’i Fast, as it makes the process more meaningful and manageable for me. Of course, a Baha’i’s primary motivation to fast is to simply follow God’s ordinances, but our loving Maker asks us to strive to understand reality. As intelligent beings, when we understand the why, we feel more motivated for the how.
The Physical Benefits of Fasting
Apart from the spiritual goal of fasting and the spiritual blessings that arise from pursuing that goal, there are other benefits. Baha’u’llah wrote that:
there are various stages and stations for the Fast and innumerable effects and benefits are concealed therein. Well is it with those who have attained unto them.
RELATED: How to Fast Like a Baha’i in 2021
Some of these benefits may be physical. In fact, an increasing amount of research shows that fasting, under the right conditions, can be healthy. Currently, many people have more than enough to eat and consume calories all their waking hours. But it’s well known that our hunter-gatherer ancestors often went without food and that, therefore, the human body adapted to this way of living. Fasting promotes cell regeneration and reduces the risk of diabetes along with other health benefits.
One form of fasting promoted by scientists is intermittent fasting, where a person maintains a pattern of eating and fasting. There are different methods of intermittent fasting, such as the 5:2 diet — where you limit your calorie intake for two days a week — and the 16:8 diet — where you consume all your calories in one eight-hour period each day. The latter method is the one I find easiest because you use the natural fasting period — sleep — and just add some extra hours of fasting onto either end.
For me, cutting out breakfast has been the easiest method. In recent years, I have developed a gluten intolerance, and as someone who loves coffee and toast in the morning, my breakfasts of gluten-free cereal have been quite depressing. I now practice my version of intermittent fasting, which I call the 7:11 diet (without the Slurpees) from Monday to Thursday. I stop eating at 7 p.m. and start eating at 11 a.m.
Can I Fast For the Physical Benefits, As Well As the Spiritual Ones?
During previous Baha’i Fasts, I tried to focus on what I ate, making sure I got enough protein in the morning to keep me feeling full longer (even though two hours after breakfast, I’m hungry no matter what!). But I sometimes ended up focusing more on the food than the fasting. I was focusing on my physical wellbeing over my spiritual health.
I’m now thinking of integrating a secondary goal into my Baha’i Fast this year: adding intermittent fasting. For this version of intermittent fasting to work, the body must not consume any calories for 16 hours straight. So, I’m going to try to add that to my Fast this year. I won’t have any breakfast— just herbal tea — and then I’ll eat at night (although my hungry belly might thwart these plans). I feel that this would give my body even more time for cell regeneration. But if I do this, would I be replacing the real aim of the Fast — to purify the soul — with the aim of purifying the body?
Can we have more than one aim when doing something? Perhaps I shouldn’t be so dichotic in my thinking about the Fast.
When I did my teacher training in ESL years ago, we were told that we could have a primary aim and a sub-aim. For example, our aim might be to introduce a new grammar point to students, but our secondary aim might be to help students improve their speaking fluency while they practice using the new grammar. The speaking practice doesn’t override the primary aim of learning the new grammar, as long as the teacher maintains most of their focus on the grammar and doesn’t let the lesson get hijacked by the speaking activity. Here, the teacher must clearly differentiate between the two aims and place one above the other.
Goals Can Support Each Other
We know that the mind and body are intimately connected, and in the Baha’i teachings, the mind is thought of as an attribute of the soul. Abdu’l-Baha wrote:
And although bodily cleanliness is a physical thing, it hath, nevertheless, a powerful influence on the life of the spirit … The purport is that physical cleanliness doth also exert its effect upon the human soul.
If this is the case, perhaps purifying the body can help purify the soul. If we eat nourishing, cleansing foods and do so with mindfulness, wouldn’t we be more likely to have a clear mental state and a lighter spirit?
If you already have a clear aim of why you are doing what you are doing, then it is easy to keep doing it while at the same time applying that task to other purposes. If you are already going to Fast, why not utilize it to give up a certain food, like candy? You are already in the mode of learning to develop self-control, so why not use that capacity? You are already trying to pray and meditate more — why not commit to reading from a specific set of spiritual writings every day?
Fasting is just one example of how we can focus on one primary goal while achieving many others.