For millenia, people have tried to reach a spiritual promised land by fasting. Jesus did it. The Buddha did it. Monks and saints and new age gurus have done it. And now, on the radio, This American Life contributor David Rakoff tries it. He does a 20-day fast, to find out if it brings him any form of enlightenment.
That was the official summary for this week’s episode of This American Life. Here is my unofficial summary:
David Rakoff does a twenty-day detox juice fast*, hoping for a quick glimpse of enlightenment. Other than his special diet and enema regimen, David does not follow any other guidelines that might define fasting as a spiritual practice, as prescribed by real spiritual experts. Instead, he reads the New York Times, rides the subway, and otherwise continues to lead his normal everyday life–to the extent possible, between his extended time on the toilet, and chopping and boiling vegetables for the fast.
Feeling depressed and dejected halfway through his juicy ordeal, having failed to meet his poorly founded expectations, David asks a doctor to condemn the entire field as pseudoscience. Convinced that his fasting guru has started to hate him, he muddles through to the end of the twenty-day period, with just enough energy to compare his trials to those of Jesus and the Buddha, and to conclude that his time might have been better spent talking to a therapist.
For the full story, you can tune in this weekend, or download the podcast, or read the published version in Don’t Get Too Comfortable.
The difference between fasting for weight loss and detoxification, and fasting as a spiritual cultivation method is discussed in William Bodri’s How to Measure and Deepen Your Spiritual Realization.
* I strongly suspect David used the 20-day “Scientific Juice Fasting” program from Dennis Paulson’s Fasting Center International–www.fasting.com.