Friday, April 16, 2010

Fasting as a Spiritual Practice

Last night I had a serendipitous discovery when I turned to the Bible for a little late night reading before sleep.

I had been working late finishing a new video on how therapeutic fasting differs from religious or political fasting. The video emphasizes the critical details that are necessary to adhere to if a person has arthritis or another inflammatory condition, in order for that person to maintain the anti-inflammatory benefits of the fast long after the fast is over.

I admit that despite my Christian upbringing, I don’t read the Bible very often. I probably turned to the Bible last night because I was subconsciously wondering just what it had to say about religious fasting. However, I never expected to flip my Bible open to such a clear and inspiring answer.

To my amazement there is a whole chapter in Isaiah (Isaiah 58) dedicated to describing how to fast. I might have expected such a thing in Leviticus which lays out religious practice in detail. I might have expected such thing in Deuteronomy were the law is spelled out again. But Isaiah? He was one of the prophets.

Then it all started making sense. I have fasted many times in my life. I started fasting as a way to regain my health. It worked. Now I fast as part of my spiritual path. I love how much easier it is to hear, see, and feel spirit when I am several days into a fast. I am always a little sad to break a longer fast, because I find the more open and enhanced communion with spirit to be so deeply comforting and life affirming.

Prophets are the ones among us communing with God and communicating from that place to their people. It makes perfect sense is that Isaiah, one of greatest of the Hebrew prophets, would be the one to give such inspiring instructions on how to fast. It is clear from Isaiah 58 that he must have loved fasting very much for the ways it brought him and his people closer to God.

Every year I go out into the desert for a ceremony that, involves 4 days of fasting while singing, dancing and praying as a community.

Desert near Phoenix, AZ

Isaiah 58: 11-12

11: And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters fail not.

12: And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.

I give thanks to Harley Swiftdeer Reagan, for bringing ceremony to the people of the Deer Tribe Metis Medicine Society.

May the souls of all people be satisfied even in drought. May we, and all people seeking the light, be successful in repairing the breach and restoring the paths to dwell in.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Many Faces of Power

Wonder Woman talks about the beauty of people breaking through blocks to keeping themselves small.  Another aspect of the breaking through is just the realization that there might be a block - that some aspect of our own, well-known self might actually be powerful, and that we just have not recognized that yet.

I led a workshop the other day in which a woman came to realize that her well-known ability to make friends, to connect with people, might actually be power.  I'd say so!  What does that do for a person, though?

Well, there's the obvious: it's pleasant to have friends.  If you just look at that, though, it is a little hard to see how this could be called power.

Having friends also means having resources - if you're willing to call on them.  That's a little more like power.

On a deeper level, though, friends are reflections of us.  They can show us, directly or indirectly, things about ourselves that we might never learn without them.  They can show us our ability to love, our reactions to tragedy or good fortune, our generosity (or lack of it), where we easily stand strong, and where we are surprisingly weak.  Our choice of friends can show us the qualities we value, the qualities we have (whether we acknowledge them or not), the qualities we wish we had (that is, that we are working on developing).

More friends, more opportunities for all those learnings!  That's darned powerful.

In the SMSD teaching called the Seven Values of the Everything, the third value is the relationship one has to those in one's immediate everyday environment.  This speaks pretty directly to the richness friends bring to our lives, and to our own spiritual growth - but also shows us what we bring to them, and what our responsibilities are. 

With power comes responsibility.

The Honor of Being a Witness

Recently I had the privilege of assisting as an instructor at one of the DTMMS self defense programs. People came from all over (including Italy, Germany, and Australia!) to participate in this unique blend of training. Like martial arts training at its roots, we blended the dragon and the tiger, providing teachings about the spirit as well as the body.

Unlike more traditional martial arts training, we focused was on everyday self-defense scenarios, not tricky sword techniques or elaborate katas. It wasn't body as artform, but body as a real, precious, and powerful resource that is so worth protecting. And it wasn't spirit as you know in meditation or prayer. It was the human spirit, the will within each of us that is willing to face whatever it takes to live our lives well.

And that was my favorite part. Each individual who participated brought some kind of fear, some block, some reason to keep themselves small that they had carried for too long in their lives. And every single one of them confronted those fears and blocks and stepped into a new understanding of what and who they could be.

It's a honor to do this kind of teaching: to witness people both in their moments of doubt and in their moments of shining. I'm grateful for the opportunity and for all those shiny warriors that showed up and broke through.