Mental Fasting

One of the wonderful things about being alive in this time is seeing the way science and meditation are finding a close kinship. Mindfulness is becoming almost mainstream in many venues because western cultures are discovering methods to scientifically validate the efficacy of focused awareness. Of course, none of this is necessary if one simply practices mindfulness and discovers the benefit for themselves. Nonetheless, I am happy to see research is motivating more folks to practice settling their minds.

I am currently reading a book on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy called Mindfulness: Ancient Wisdom Meets Modern Psychology. The authors have experience and training both fields. I am struck by a particular passage: “The cultivation of simple awareness is a form of fasting that cuts off the reinforcement of the patterns and habit that lead to distress through thought and speculation.” This is a very contemporary rephrasing of Buddha’s basic teaching on mindfulness. I rather like the idea of using the word “fasting” as it conveys a practical approach to dealing with habits of mind.

Just Ike dietary fasting helps to reset the metabolism, mental fasting can help us reset the mind. This is very much like the methodology in fundamental Buddhism. One notices unhelpful thought patterns and then severs the root of causation by not engaging them. This is the path of renunciation followed by monks and nuns for centuries. It is a very good beginning. But we tend to apply fasting through judging something as bad or unhealthy not realizing the judging mind is the original problem. So a deeper practice is discovering the true nature of the one who judges. This naturally arises as we become more mindful.

Lately I am receiving more invitations to offer Buddhist teachings in a variety of venues and I think this may be because the idea mindfulness is now more acceptable. Local schools are blending mindfulness in the educational process and hospices are recognizing the benefit of settling the mind in end of life care. I will be speaking in both of these venues over the next few weeks. I am glad books such as the one I am now reading gives me another way to express Buddha’s teaching to a contemporary audience.

It is interesting that mindfulness and fasting are also becoming popular choices for food and lifestyle changes. Periodic fasting is all the rage in the dietary field. Maybe there is a theme here. We have to break the patterns that lead to obesity of body and mind. So, if you haven’t fasted for awhile, maybe it is time to experiment.

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