An Experience with Fasting

a sharing from the Editor On September 19, I learned of Thay's intention to fast for ten days as a prayer for the missing and their loved ones, and as a call for peace. He invited us to join him, and my heart said yes. I am familiar with the practice of fasting, and had recently done a three and a half day juice fast. But I had never done a ten day fast of just water and herbal tea, and since I am in good health, I felt ready to begin. My purpose in doing this was to respond to the violence that had occurred and to join Thay in his efforts to offer a peaceful and happy way of life to everyone in the world. Part of this was to learn to treat my body with love and respect and to allow it to rest and cleanse. Another part was to become aware of my habit energies in relation to eating, and to become friends with the desire and craving that habitually come up around food.

As I began the fast, I was very aware of Thay's support in the process. Many days I took long walks on the beach, receiving nourishment from the fresh ocean breezes and the feel of the sand under my feet. I would talk with Thay and ask him to help me in this practice. On the seventh day, our practice center was blessed with a visit from eleven monks and nuns on their way home to Deer Park Monastery. They dropped in for lunch, and as we served the buffet, they asked me to join them. When I told them I was fasting with Thay, they thanked me for supporting him . That was the first time I realized that, not only had Thay been supporting me in my practice, but also that my practice had been supporting Thay. One brother looked at me over the food and said. "You are Thay." Several days into the fast, I began to notice that the element of stopping had blossomed in me. In sitting meditation, when the bell rang to walk, I noticed that I had really stopped and had no desire to rise or not rise. And when the bell rang to sit again, I noticed I had no desire to stop walking or to continue walking. By stopping one habit pattern, I had taught my whole self that stopping is okay, that stopping can be nourishment of the deepest kind .

I was also confronted by my beliefs about how much I need to consume to stay healthy. During the first week I saw that, except for climbing hills or lifting heavy objects, my energy was not significantly reduced . As the fast neared the end, I did notice that I was becoming weaker and that my skin was becoming dry. I began to see images of starving Biafran children and maybe for the first time, really imagined what it would be like to live my whole life in those conditions. The contrast between what I consume and what they receive is a startling picture I am often not ready to experience.

I have now committed to fast one day a week, offering my body a lazy day and my mind an opportunity to observe its grasping nature with love and compassion. In general, I am also making a small but consistent effort to consume less. I thank Thay for helping me get to know myself and for ceaselessly being present with me in my suffering and in my happiness.

I know that for many of us, when we heard of the tragedies of September 11, a deep longing arose to hear words of comfort and understanding from our teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh. This issue contains a special section with some of his responses: a special piece written October 19, called " 'Strike Against Terror': is a Misleading Expression"; his Dharma talk from Berkeley on September 13; and stories of practitioners who were with Thay during this time. Though it has been three months since that morning, the impact is still being deeply felt in our society and within our own hearts. May each of us find solace and understanding from the teacher within.

In gratitude, Barbara Casey