Monthly Archives: December 2011
Sitting with my cousin in a bar in Williamsburg, a neighborhood bar in a neighborhood in Brooklyn, I heard him tell me that he doesn’t think this forty-nine day business is going to go so well for me. He imagined that I’d go thirty, thirty-five, and just be unable to go further.
My first thought was that my cousin was simply projecting his own imaginings, his own expectations of himself, onto me. It’s the second thought-series that really trips me up: So what if he is projecting? What difference does it make to me? Why am I dismissing his concerns as mere projection? I’m the one leaping to dismiss his words, creating a story to protect my image of me. I expect support from a cousin, even a little white lie, a little warm sunshine on his breath. Even if he was projecting, there is no valid reason that would force me to explain his disapproval away other than my poor ego needing some protection.
Maybe I think the same way and just don’t want to admit it. I know I’ve thought about that scenario, a month without, fighting lethargy, maybe even hallucinating, trying to maintain consciousness. The difference between a thirty day fast, which doctors say is moderately safe, and a forty-nine day fast, is a monster. The difference is monstrous. It’s scary. It’s not safe.
Why do I think I can do this?
I’ll hit the easy-to-dart balloons first.
I think I can do this because, as Joseph Campbell described, when you commit to an action, when you’re on the fresh tracked trail of your own bliss, people come out of the woodwork to make your dreams come true, and people have done just that for me. I know that’s a strange piece of logic, but I think it’s true: I can do forty-nine days because a team came together so I could do forty-nine days.
I think it’s likely that in the first week or two, I’ll learn more about discomfort than I’ve ever known. After that, I think I’ll just be steadily and increasingly uncomfortable, something that I’ll be able to ignore or merely notice most of the time. The literature seems to suggest that after a week or so, hunger goes away.
I can do this because, like Whitman, I’m a magnificent idler. I can sit for days on end with nothing but my own mind to amuse me. To have such casual goals as this TREE requires (stretch, meditate, try to write poems of praise to the absolute, keep a journal, try not to scratch the mosquito bites) and knowing, of course, that without much effort I’ll get incrementally better at those things, thus making each day a little easier – to have such achievable goals within the context of the forty-nine days, makes achieving the goal of forty-nine days very approachable.
Did I win the big bear yet? No? Next balloon.
A year ago the whip of shame snapped my heels (an image of a Muslim woman in the street, crying, a policeman with a length of popping leather) and I remember thinking that it might be pride that kept me under the branches, a fear of being ashamed or of disappointing those that worked so hard to get me under the canopy. Yet, I’ve learned the lessons of ridicule and blame. There’s nothing in them but self-hatred and I don’t think I have that, anymore. The shame and blame game was last year.
Next balloon. One more to get the big one?
I can do this because I want to do this. I want a great journey, an epic adventure, a rite-of-passage, a transformational experience. I can do this because, when put in those terms, everyone wants to do this, however they can.
Oh, one more? Last balloon.
I can do this because when I think about doing it, I feel happy. I imagine the first days, the exhaustion, the haggardness, the putting on of a friendly face despite just being sacked, and I smile. I think of two weeks in, cramping and feverish (Why? I don’t know. It’s not in the literature, but it’s how I imagine it) and chuckling because I know it’ll pass. It’s just a fever. It’s just a cramp. It’s just a cold. A couple of days and it’ll be gone. Oh! It makes me smile. The body just works through it.
I’ll stay happy and I’ll get through it.
I remember the first hero-story that resonated with me. There is a guy named Stephen Foust who, when I was ten, walked thirty-six hundred miles, across the the United States. He started in Indiana and, for nine months, talked to people all over the country, doing a phone-in radio show about the people he’d meet and the places he’d go. I wanted to be just like him.
But without all the walking.
And that’s not strictly true. I had daydreams of walking across the continent, making meandering my livelihood with a giant dog, a dane or mastiff at my side as companion and guard. What I loved about the idea of it, more than anything else, was the idea that somewhere, sometime during the journey, there would be a falling away of my self and I’d be brought into union with something I couldn’t understand.
I was ten. Or eleven.
Feet slapping gravel, splashing in puddles, stepping, stepping, stepping, the sun beating down, the rain beating down, stepping, stepping, stepping, stopping to sleep and eat and to feed the dog.
The second hero-story that made an impact on me was hearing about Mother Theresa of Calcutta. I was in sixth or seventh grade and the teacher of my social studies class showed a short film that detailed the founding of her charities and her work amongst the poorest of the poor.
My heart broke open with love but, as children do, I quite forgot about her during recess and it wasn’t until quite a few years later that I would return to her story.