Aug 27 2010

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi – Fasting

Published by at 8:19 am under Ivan's Story,Poetry

by Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

English version by Coleman Barks

There’s hidden sweetness in the stomach’s emptiness.
We are lutes, no more, no less. If the soundbox
is stuffed full of anything, no music.
If the brain and belly are burning clean
with fasting, every moment a new song comes out of the fire.
The fog clears, and new energy makes you
run up the steps in front of you.
Be emptier and cry like reed instruments cry.
Emptier, write secrets with the reed pen.
When you’re full of food and drink, Satan sits
where your spirit should, an ugly metal statue
in place of the Kaaba. When you fast,
good habits gather like friends who want to help.
Fasting is Solomon’s ring. Don’t give it
to some illusion and lose your power,
but even if you have, if you’ve lost all will and control,
they come back when you fast, like soldiers appearing
out of the ground, pennants flying above them.
A table descends to your tents,
Jesus’ table.
Expect to see it, when you fast, this table
spread with other food, better than the broth of cabbages.

— from The Illuminated Rumi, Translated by Coleman Barks

/ Photo by bennylin0724 /

I used to fast one day a week, every week, as part of my spiritual practice. And when I did eat, I ate very lightly. About three years ago I decided it was time to put weight back on. After having cultivated a sort of spiritual aloofness to the physical world and physical body for most of my adult life, coupled with a few unrelated health problems, I felt it was time to explore what it meant to have a solid, strong physical presence. In a world where so many people struggle to lose weight and go on diets, I actually found it very difficult to retrain myself to eat more food. I even started lifting weights and studying martial arts. But the physical challenge was easy compared to the psychological challenge of deciding to be more physically present, to take up space in the world. I’m still figuring out how to integrate this into my larger spiritual practice. My stronger body no longer fits the image of the emaciated meditator. Do I need a new mental image, or do I just drop those images and be as I am? So fascinating how this body continues to teach me about myself as it challenges my self image.

Yesterday, I did another full day fast, however. It still surprises me how a short fast, such a simple action, can so effectively push the reset button on my energies. My mind clears, my internal clock slows down, stresses ease, my breathing opens up, and the world once again shines. It’s medicine for body and soul.

Made me think of this post from a couple of years ago…

There’s hidden sweetness in the stomach’s emptiness.
We are lutes, no more, no less. If the soundbox
is stuffed full of anything, no music.

Fasting is something we’re not too comfortable with in the affluent West. Even though all religious traditions, including Christianity and Judaism, have rich, ancient traditions of fasting, we often don’t have a real sense of what spirituality has to do with food — or its avoidance. We tend to take a rather intellectual approach to spirituality. Even in modern New Age teachings, we have the notion that all we have to do is change our thinking and transformation occurs. But the results of that approach are often spotty. One reason is that mind is much more than thoughts, and transforming the mind requires deeper work. Thoughts are built on ingrained energetic patterns. For real transformation to occur, we have to get down to those foundational patterns. Very often this requires not merely changing one’s thoughts, but tunneling beneath them. This is the purpose of deeper spiritual practice.

Fasting is a simple, universal, and powerful way to clear the mind and confront those more fundamental energies in the awareness.

But why? What does food have to do with any of this? We are not two things, a mind separate from a body, or even a mind that inhabits a body. The mind and body interpenetrate one another. If your body is injured, that physical pain demands attention, affecting the awareness. The state of the body impacts the clarity and focus of the mind. Feeding the body pure, healthy foods in general, and periodically allowing it to rest from the exhausting work of digestion can profoundly free up energies for the awareness to tap into.

Here’s something else you won’t hear much: Food is a drug. Every food is a narcotic. Does that sound bizarre to you? I don’t mean that foods are literally hallucinogenic. But every single thing you put into your mouth, affects consciousness in some way. We use food to control emotions. We use food shift mood and change awareness. Think of the instinct to grab a pint of ice cream from the freezer after a terrible breakup. Everything, even a salad, affects consciousness in some way. The resulting psychic shift after eating something can be relatively positive or relatively negative. It can help you to feel solid and grounded or expanded and open. It can tantalize the senses and flood us with feelings of satiation or leave us frustrated. None of this is necessarily bad, but we must understand how profoundly food affects awareness, and utilize food wisely… and sometimes not to consume food at all.

A fascinating thing happens when you fast as part of a spiritual practice: After you ease past the initial psychic tension and your body moves through any detox discomforts — the mind naturally settles and grows quiet. So much of the agitation of the mind arises from the foods we eat.

Recognizing this, food and fasting becomes an important part of spiritual practice.

The fog clears, and new energy makes you
run up the steps in front of you.

The first few times I tried to do just a one day fast, I was frankly terrified. I knew intellectually that a healthy human body can go for days without food, no problem. Many times in the past I had forgotten to eat breakfast, and it was no big deal, but on a day when I intentionally decided to fast, I’d be sweating and panicky by mid-morning. It took me a while to understand that fasting, even a mild fast, is a confrontation with death. It is the willingness to temporarily abandon that constant hunt to satisfy every desire by attempting to slough off the fundamental hunger for food. How do you just have a desire and sit with it, without attempting to immediately satisfy it? That’s a pretty frightening question, when you really ask it.

With a little practice, you discover that what we often assume is physical hunger is actually mental hunger. For well-fed Westerners, it can take days, literally days, for true physical hunger to arise. The hunger we feel when we miss a couple of meals is really just mental habit, the reflexive desire to use food in order to regulate consciousness and control emotion. Follow that reflex to its root, and we find it originating from the ever-fearful ego, which is endlessly attempting to reinforce its fragile construction of a limited self inside a limited world by keeping the mind perpetually agitated.

Fasting, used carefully, with balance, and as part of a larger spiritual practice, becomes a way to help identify and unseat the despotic ego.

This is why fasting is practiced in all religions. And you don’t even have to have a religious “faith.” Just try it sometime, for a day, for half a day, wrestle your way through, and see what happens in you.

Be emptier and cry like reed instruments cry.
Emptier, write secrets with the reed pen.

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi, Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

Afghanistan & Turkey (1207 – 1273) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

More poetry by Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

11 responses so far

11 Responses to “Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi – Fasting”

  1. Shannon Sullivanon 27 Aug 2010 at 12:34 pm

    Well, this poem and your thoughts in relation to it come at a perfect time. I have tried many ways to create change within my life and this seems like one of the next steps to incorporate. When I first read it, my body actually started to feel better, lighter and I could breathe easier. But like you said when you thought about it on the day you choose to fast, you started to panic. So after the initial lightness, now I feel my body (mind) saying, “are you crazy? we need this to survive.” So I try to convince my mind that we will be okay. I think I reflect on the “emptiness” of it and that will make me feel the “emptiness” … quite frightening really. 😉 Thank you for sharing.

  2. carleneon 27 Aug 2010 at 1:26 pm

    Brilliant, Ivan. You are an old soul in a young and strong body.

  3. Ojih Biondoon 27 Aug 2010 at 9:54 pm

    Brilliant poem. Brilliant commentary.
    I’m gonna try fasting a bit.


  4. Aparrnaon 27 Aug 2010 at 10:11 pm

    Ha ha ha, synchronicity, eh Ivan??? Or is it your mind reading (or distant lip reading) you’re practicing again???…. I had a light fast yesterday (fruit during the day and one meal in the evening). And yet, the body wanted to abstain today again. So i was telling a friend just about an hour back that SOME time the body too needs rest, from the exhausting work of digestion… 🙂
    Thanks for reading minds!!!
    Love and light!

  5. sergeyon 28 Aug 2010 at 3:18 am

    experience in fasting lasted for 7 days.
    It was something spesial
    but no
    of spiritual
    as i could feel it.

    a lot


  6. hamidon 28 Aug 2010 at 3:23 am

    Thanks for sharing this poem of Rumi.
    actually i thought you may better to know the word (mevlana) is a turkish style of the
    original which is (molana) ,as you know the native language of rumi is persian and
    this word (molana) is a persian word ,meaning (our master). when it uses in turkish
    style there is no meaning for it.
    god bless

  7. simonbaghon 28 Aug 2010 at 3:35 am

    to fast is to change thy nutritional habit
    evolved to keep bodily and mentally befit

    that is planed to consume the fat deposit
    amassed in muscles because you overeat

    to glut is a hidden mental disease indeed
    always out of mental balance do overeat

    now diets serve bodybuilding apart soul
    ignoring the mental capacity’s main role

    to increase yours mental capacity is behind,
    developing self confidence training the mind

    fast mentally means to keep off evil thought
    to purge and kindle love lantern in thy heart

    mental aspect lessens the burden of soul,
    till makes time to reconsider its divine role

    as you get back thy mental balance in full
    you get authority again yours body to rule

    when from carnal desires the soul get freed
    tombstone becomes temple for loves’ breed

    when with the beloved’s love you rehearse
    you will forget every dish and every stress

  8. Patricia Gagneon 28 Aug 2010 at 7:25 am

    Food for thought!
    Thank you , Ivan.
    Good timing.


  9. franon 28 Aug 2010 at 9:08 am

    Recently, I fasted as part of a 9 day cleanse from Blessed Herbs . The 5 days of fasting surprised me, happily. I took organic unfiltered apple juice with toxin absorber 5x a day, it takes the edge off an empty stomach. But I felt so incredibly energetic, happy, peaceful, CLEAR. I do massage and I thought I will freak out not eating, but NO I sailed smoothly through the day.
    Yes, I want to incorporate fasting monthly or weekly,make it a day for absorbing, ART, PEOPLE , GOD, the SKY everything but the desires of the belly, creating instead of deavoring thanks for sharing POEM support:) peace

  10. Somaiyahon 28 Aug 2010 at 9:09 am

    Hey Ivan
    very good commentary.We,as muslims,are fasting during the month of ramadan.the poem and your commentary both have added a lot to my understanding of fasting.Also,your gesture for the help of my country fellows is heartwarming.God bless you.I wish we can have a few million clones of you in this will be a better place:)
    Thank you very much

  11. nasihaon 29 Aug 2010 at 5:03 am

    thanks Ivan,
    I feel happy to know that where ever we are and what ever we do, we feel the same and we remain as people,very simple.
    Loved Rumi and loved your words, yes it is fascinating to see how the body continues to teach us about ourselves.
    ramadan mubarak

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