Many believe that fasting is a wonderful discipline for ridding the “flesh” of natural desires, lusts and cravings, and is a way to put the Spirit in control as well as a method of drawing nearer to God. Underneath this self-flagellation is the idea that God is an austere being and that the cravings and desires of the natural man are intrinsically evil. Even more common, yet equally harmful is the notion of “reward and punishment” when it comes to our spiritual journey. As I have mentioned in earlier articles, when we view God as a person like ourselves, we transfer our baggage onto Him in the form of expectations, prejudices and resentment.
Our Ego loves to engage in harsh, challenging disciplines in the name of spirituality. No matter how you may choose to punish yourself in order to gain self redemption, you will never rise to the level of austerity of the many practices that have been employed throughout history. However, the Ego may use more subtle tactics such as, believing that we must put off our pleasures until our work is done, or that we don’t deserve a particular desire because we have not “done enough” to earn it. We often think that because we haven’t arrived at a particular level of prosperity, or that because we keep repeating negative, self-defeating patterns, we are being punished by God or getting the Karma that we deserve.
In reality, we are actually defeating ourselves by believing a deception and acting it out rather than living in the Truth. The greater the negative energy that existed during our upbringing, the less we have the ability to trust in ourselves and in The Universe. The Ego becomes self-reliant and in desperate need of control. This causes the Ego to focus on self-preservation through behavior, judgment and choice. Accomplishments, performance, acquisition of material things and notoriety all become elevated as a result of the Ego’s valuation of self-reliance. Thus, the Ego can engage in monumental spiritual quests and severe disciplines in order to “achieve” its noble crusade. However, the one thing the Ego finds most difficult is Surrender.
Our Spirit is that part of us which is in tune with The Universe or Universal Principles. Principles such as Love, Wisdom and Serenity are beyond the scope of the Ego and the natural mind. Our Spirit is capable of hearing and understanding these Principles; however, they defy the understanding of the Ego which is unwilling to relinquish control. Rather than Surrender to the Spirit in order to gain Wisdom, the Ego prefers to engage in religious dogma, or exercise in order to fool us into thinking we are making spiritual progress so that it will not have to surrender control. This is why recovery programs which focus primarily on behavioral change are largely ineffective. The Ego is not required to step out of the driver’s seat of the recovering addict’s life.
Of course there is a place for fasting, meditation and a return to Simplicity. However, these disciplines are “investments” in our own physical and spiritual growth and should be done with the view that they will result in a positive return. Fasting is a cleansing process by which we remove toxins or allow the body to “reset” itself in a healthy manner. In other words, it is an investment in Health. It should not be an attempt to get a gold star from heaven or to punish ourselves for yesterday’s binge. Eating an apple instead of a candy bar is a choice made in Surrender to Health and a positive investment in our body temple. Spending time in nature and “listening” to the voice of Wisdom is an act of Surrender and Trust in the Universe which silences the chatter of the Ego and mind. However, if we expect a “reward” of improved circumstances to come quickly because of our behavior, then we miss the point. We reward ourselves by investing in Peace and Simplicity and silencing our monkey mind, rather than having to be rewarded by an outside source.
Discipline is the act of remaining within the parameters of Positive Energy and removing the Ego from our driver’s seat while allowing the Spirit to hear the voices of Wisdom, Truth and Love. It is not behavior focused, but it acts in response to the Laws and Principles of Positive Energy. Rather than being harsh and unpleasant, it should be viewed as an investment, made with Joy and the anticipation of a positive return.