As I described before, I consider fasting to be a regenerative practice. For the transition towards the Ecocene, I am convinced that we have to go through changes that feel uncomfortable. Through fasting, I want to explore how to feel comfortable, at ease, and maybe even joyful when encountering the scarce, the painful, the awkward, and the unfamiliar.
Fasting today is associated with cleaning the body of toxins and letting go of baggage (physically and mentally). During a fast, we are to drink purified water and organic broth and bathe in foraged herbs. Ideally, we go to a quiet place by ourselves. Fasting has many physical benefits, such as reducing the side effects of chemotherapy, regenerating stem cells, and keeping the brain healthy, among many, many others. The health benefits are one reason why I am engaging in this practice.
Fasting and the Sacred
Beyond health aspects, fasting, like tobacco, was an important way to deepen communication with the sacred in ancient traditions. Fasting, it was recognized, increased human sensitivity to the nonmaterial world, enhanced personal experience of the sacredness of both the self and the Universe and helped the fasting person regain a sense of orientation and purpose. I hope to regain a sense of that sacredness.
Sacredness is a sense of wonder and magic of my home, my ecology. Through fasting, I want to become aware of the wonder surrounding me and the magic that tricks me. I want to recognize what it means when my gods are dandelions, my shrine is a compost, the birds sing my prayers, and I get baptized each time I dive into a lake. Can fungi root me in the earth while the wind takes me to heaven?
I notice how consumption, be it food, movies, drinks, or stuff, blurs my mind and perception. It carries me away from the sacred; it distracts me from perceiving the world around me. Yet, this re-enchantment of the world is what we need if we want to transition to the Ecocene.
Re-enchantment of the world
For Max Weber, disenchantment would be the hallmark of a new secular age dominating the new century. Religion would disappear and be replaced by rationalism, an “iron cage” in which people were enslaved to bureaucratic systems of efficiency, calculation, and control.
“Culture’s every step forward seems condemned to lead to an ever more devastating senselessness.” Max Weber
But, of course, we are not subject to reasoning alone. Biologists such as the evolutionary scientist Edward O. Wilson believe that mind and feeling have developed in a continuous coevolution with plants and animals, the “biophilia hypothesis.” I would add the whole ecology that envelops us “ecophilia”. Our mind and body have found their forms in intimate contact with the more-than-human world that they cannot survive without its presence.
Today, many scientists have realized that we are animals, defined by our perceptions. We do not experience the world primarily with our minds but with our senses and our bodies, and the consequence of this connection is that we perceive the world not as a causal chain reaction but as a vast field of meaning. We think in symbols and metaphors. To fully experience our being, we are dependent on the presence of our ecology as a symbolic mirror reflecting who we are.
Idealism — a philosophy of re-enchantment
I don’t see a distinction between the physical and the metaphysical. The sacred is physical and metaphysical. Bernardo Kastrup makes a compelling argument that “materialism is baloney”.
“Childishly emboldened by the technological success achieved by our civilization, many scientists have begun to believe that the scientific method suffices to provide us with a complete account of the nature of existence — that is, with a complete ontology. In doing so, they have failed to see that they are simply assuming a certain metaphysics — namely, materialism — without giving it due thought. They have failed to see that the ability to predict how things behave with respect to one another says little about what things fundamentally are”.
He goes on to describe that what things fundamentally are is consciousness. Recent evidence indicates that no physical entity or phenomenon can be explained separately from, or independently of, its subjective apprehension in consciousness. This evidence was published in the prestigious science journal Nature in 2007. As Kastrup describes
“If this is true, the logical consequence is that consciousness cannot be reduced to matter — for it appears that it is needed for matter to exist in the first place — but must itself be fundamental”.
His argument aligns with many spiritual traditions, describing how we are consciousness that manifests itself in a limited, subjective form to experience itself, also referred to as idealism. As Daniel Pinchbeck summarises it
“According to this philosophy, consciousness, not matter, is the fundamental reality, the “ontological primitive.” Each of us, individually, is a dissociated projection or “alter” of an underlying consciousness that is indivisible, instinctive, timeless, spaceless, without boundaries. The philosophy of idealism is rapidly gaining popularity”.
Pinchbeck goes on to say that “if humanity is going to have a future on this planet — or elsewhere — we must, first of all, make the paradigm shift from materialism to idealism”.
Idealism and fasting
To me, Kastrup’s arguments speak to the (static) lens part of my left hemisphere. According to McGilchrist, this (static) view is a narrowly focused, restricted, but detailed view of the world. Such a view is dominated by technicalising of knowledge and increased abstraction and reification. I can grasp the idealist philosophy in a very abstract way. At the same time, spiritual traditions describe the same ideas deriving from direct experience. I had only glimpses of this experience, mostly through — like any metamodern guinea pig — psychedelic experiences.
I have sufficient experience with fasting to know that it will not offer me these experiences on a golden (and empty) platter. Yet, what I can say is that if I do consume in a way that is considered “normal” for many of us today, I will very likely not be able to re-enchant my world.