The Season of Restraint

The shaker bottle of berry-scented green sludge next to my desk just caught a flash of sunlight. That's one sight I won't see for the next 19 days. The light on food, I mean. The green sludge will still be around.

At sunset tonight, the nineteenth and last month of the Bahá’í year begins. This is when we fast from sunrise to sunset each day, abstaining from both food and drink. Instead, we turn our attention to prayer, meditation, and the love of God. Then, at the end of the Fast, we celebrate the coming of the new year, which corresponds to the beginning of spring.

Fasting isn't always easy. And there are plenty of exemptions for people who should not fast for one reason or another, ranging from travel, age, and manual labor, to illness and pregnancy, among others. The point of the Fast isn't to punish yourself or make yourself sick. It's about reflecting a spiritual reality in the physical world.

There's something really beautiful about waking up in the half-light before sunrise to fix and eat breakfast and drink plenty of water. In my neighborhood, that means being up and moving around 5:30 a.m. for the first half of the Fast, and then around 6:30 a.m. for the second half, after daylight savings time starts. I tend to eat breakfast while leaning against the kitchen counter, so it may not be the most relaxing morning routine, but it's still thoughtful and dreamy.

Sunsets are more beautiful, too. Some days, that's because hunger has taken hold with a vengeance. Most days, though, it's because I have a greater awareness of the quality of the light and the gentle slide into darkness than I do at any other time of the year. It's pretty common for me to reach sunset and be past the point of hunger, so I don't care if I eat right way. 

For a long time, this has been one of my favorite times of the year. It started because it's incredibly clear that I'm a Bahá’í during the Fast, since I have to plan around social conventions in a way I don't, normally. Lunch meetings? Not so much. Early dinner with friends? Nope. Chat over coffee? No thanks. Then it was because I had a gang of friends nearby who were all fasting and would arrange to meet up and break the fast together with potluck dinners and prayers on Fridays or Saturdays.

Ten years ago, I spent the Fast overflowing with fragile, happy anticipation, dazzled and surprised. The events of that Fast, and that spring, set off a chain of events that continues today, from apartment and travel experiments to career opportunities and financial choices. 

Five years ago, as part of that chain, I spent the last half of the Fast on pilgrimage to the Bahá’í shrines in northern Israel. Pilgrims don't fast, which felt very odd. Instead, I spent a lot of time praying and wandering around the gardens. I let my mind and heart wander, considered who else had walked the same paths, and came back lighter and more focused. Within weeks of my return to the U.S., I was flying back and forth to San Francisco every few months for work and catching up with friends and family out west. After a little more than a year, I changed jobs and opened more doors for myself. A little more than two years after that, I went freelance, started my MFA, and started researching and writing the book. 

Which brings me to now. I'm thinking ahead again. Maybe "feeling" ahead is a better expression. It's time for focus. And prayer. And intuition. And action.