Many forms of yogic training suggest the sincere practitioner take on austerity practices or tapas (discipline) ranging from the manageable to the outrageous. To shift consciousness from its limiting habitual patterns can require some real weirdo maneuvers. One relatively sane austerity practice is fasting. Done with awareness, fasting hones the body’s capacity to discriminate between which habits serve it and which ones it serves.
But it’s not just food from which one can fast.
I have been fasting on walking and being “slow.” I didn’t do it by choice, but was humbled into the practice by the limitations of a foot injury. Now the pace of slow feels like it serves my ability to discern this from that so deeply I just might keep going.
I was born and raised in Speedy Brooklyn. When we walk, my partner, a Texan, asks, “Do we need to get somewhere?” The answer is obvious—“Isn’t that what walking is for?”
Is that what living is for?
For the past six weeks, I wore an air-cast on my right foot to allow for a “suspected stress fracture” to heal. It hurt from activity, but we couldn’t find the problem, keeping me on my knees before the mysterious and often inexplicable origins of much– if not most– pain and dysfunction.
Aircasts are the epitome of awkwardness, ironically easy to stumble in, forcing an astronaut’s gait (minus a moon underfoot). Slowing down to the pace of injury and healing was, at first, hell on my metabolism and my sense of contentment.
But yoga teaches that any sense of contentment so easily lost is not true contentment at all. Wanting to throw your air cast at the person who cut you off at the turnstile bespeaks neither the attitude of tadasana (steadiness) nor savasana (surrender), but gross frustration at reality. So I had to fast from fast and subsist on slow.
In New York City, it is perilous to go slowly. People will mow you down to make their train or light. With an injury, however, you must go at your requisite pace, carefully and intentionally, as if each step actually matters.
Treated as an obstacle by the pedestrians zooming past in a categorical rush, you feel instead as if you just arrived on this odd earth for the first time. Your consciousness is so different from the city’s norm. Except for the old and infirm, nobody is acting like you.
Something might be wrong with a culture intolerant of slow. The city tugs you toward the Valor of Fast. Revving back up to customary speed, I felt a worthy life-form again. But the pain, come night, reminded me that faster is not equal to freer.
Getting things done, getting where you need to be, is good. But how many of those in the masses rushing are actually rushing for a purpose? How many rush because going slow reminds us of something beautiful and painful—our lurking question, are we getting anywhere?
When I do asana day after day, am I getting anywhere? In my life, in my understanding, am I getting anywhere?
Our liberation is not based on sum of our many arrivals, but the condition in which we arrive. Big Consciousness may not care if we miss the train. Will our tapas reveal to us what patterns need to loosen?
Try fasting on slow to check it out.