Emptying the vessel

I have practiced various forms of fasting on and off for just over a decade now. I have become more committed to this process in the last three years, and have just completed a 180 hour water fast. Privately, I am increasingly convinced that fasting is the God-given way to invite bodily repair in the most simple, natural manner. No potions, no pills, no tinctures, no treatments, no healing modalities. Just pure rest.

Practically speaking, fasting requires nothing more than time and space. However, I began doing longer water fasts only when I felt certain that my body knew that this was a time of care and not a form of punishment. Fasting is a practice, and having exercised this muscle consistently I now feel confident that I can handle whatever arises on my own. I eased myself gently into and out of the fast by eating very lightly and minimally for at least a week on either side. For the fasting period itself, I took time off work, cleared my calendar of anything strenuous, booked myself a massage and bought copious quantities of bath salts. I vowed to do no reading, no studying and no listening to lectures or audiobooks. I wanted to steer myself away from the usual safe, diversionary harbours.

Once the fast was underway, I gave myself simple, physical tasks that mirrored the internal work taking place. I tidied cupboards, cleaned shelves and quietly sorted and ordered my cloister-home. I went for slow walks and did gentle stretching routines. I permitted myself family-friendly viewing in the evenings if my energy was waning, but otherwise I maintained a low-to-no info and media diet. Mostly, I did nearly nothing. I sat on the sofa, drank warm water and looked out of my window at the shifting mists and clouds. I listened for the owls and the peregrine falcons nesting nearby. I watched the birds and the squirrels competing for their portion of food on my patio.

A reminder from the red rocks of Arizona

Although tangible physical repair and the purging of junk and poison from the body is very much welcomed, fasting yields so much more than this. Without fasting, when would I truly let the tide to come in? When would I allow the rhythmic swing to reach its furthest apex? When would my mind and body entirely cease from churning and digesting? It has taken me a long time to recognise that there is a special kind of inertia in constant striving. Equally, there is an evasion in relentless production and achievement – a futile exercise, for as Thomas á Kempis states “wherever you go, there you are”. I fell into these habitual patterns of avoidance and simulation for much of my life, and fasting now forms a key part in my recalibration process. It helps me to place value where it abides naturally: in stillness, presence and being.

In the quiet sacrifice of foregoing the pleasurable lull of a full belly and the sensory satisfaction of taste and texture, there is a balancing point to be explored: the locus between the power and clarity of a disciplined self, and the humility and dependence of a frail body. I still lack the words with which to expand on this notion, but I know that on the sixth day of my fast when my muscles ached and my head was sore, I found consolation in identifying with Paul’s depiction of strength in weakness:

And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

2 Cor 12:9

The establishment of the fasting state is a particular blessing for an individual like me who is prone to be a thought-in-a-box, with a brain that is constantly juggling ideas and articulations. Over the course of the first three days, my mind gradually went into standby mode and my vision softened. The familiar laser beam honing in on fine details gave way to a more gentle overview. I was brought into a wordless space, a zone of neutrality and receptivity. Thomas Merton describes the art of contemplation as “learning to rest in arid quietude”. Fasting is a very literal way of playing out this aridity by creating a temporary wilderness in which you are compelled to face your own void while the vessel quite literally empties. In this sense, I experience fasting as a gentle exercise in learning how to suffer, how to accept transient aches and passing anxieties without fuss, how to not get what I want and still be ok. The more willingly and frequently I enter this state, the more at ease I become with my own inevitable discomforts. There is less fighting and more simple observation. As the surface fluctations ease and the flesh ceases “lusting against the Spirit” (Gal 5:17) a feeling of underlying harmony arises.

Eventually, there is acceptance. With yielding detachment from the appetites, the volume is turned down on the voice that likes to shout “my will”. The departure of this desirous chatter creates space, and in this space the well-buried but ever present peace of divine security feels closer to hand.

A brief caveat: clearly there are numerous situations in which fasting would be unwise. For some individuals, abstenance from food is ill advised under any circumstances. I am not here with the intention of dishing out recommendations. I am simply sharing my passion for a practice that I have found to be beneficial.

Turn in

Turn in, turn in, the leaves dance and sway
like terminal lovers beguiled by decay.
In ochre and amber the autumnal edge 
with coloured collapse keeps its annual pledge. 
The now lonely branches, stripped down, unadorned, 
hail heaven with bare limbs, green garments yet mourned. 
Their stilled presence marks time to rest and repair, 
to lean into winter’s quiet swathe and prepare
our cloistered hands, hushed minds and poor yielding hearts,
in silence of wholeness to be set apart. 
11th November 2021, Wiltshire, England. 

Be a lover of silence

Many are avidly seeking but they alone find who remain in continual silence…Every man who delights in a multitude of words, even though he says admirable things, is empty within.

If you love truth, be a lover of silence. Silence like the sunlight will illuminate you in God and will deliver you from the phantoms of ignorance. Silence will unite you to God himself.”

Isaac of Nineveh (quoted in Merton’s ‘Contemplative Prayer’)

Gifts of inheritance

The gifts of inheritance are laced with poison, 
venom passed on from fathers to sons. 
Hand-me-down wounds left to fester perpetually
numb fragile selves to both spirit and touch. 

Captive to idols and slow sinking blindly, 
ancestral illusions asphyxiate thought. 
Unbound and unbidden we turn and return 
from healing of silence to near noise of death.

1st July 2020, Somerset, England

Receive a kingdom

As Easter unfolds, I am on day 4 of a water fast. Not only does the Christian rhythm invite fasting and prayer at this time of year, but the unusual space created by the current (fallacious) narrative of pandemic and resulting national house arrest offers the ideal occasion for a healing fast. What better moment to strip back distractions even further and invite more stillness, more silence, more contemplation, more being? 

“A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return.” Luke 19:12 

Easter asks us to consider the template of resurrection portrayed in perfection by Christ. In extended fasting and prayer I am making my own modest gesture of humility in the face of this great act. I am engaging in deep gratitude for the most radical and potent of all Christian teachings. 

"Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two. And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, "Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit." ” 
Luke 23:45-46
St Michael and All Angels church, Garton, Yorkshire, England.

Within the timeless realm of fasting, prayer and quarantine, where days expand in inactivity, I find myself resting repeatedly in a zone of quiet and thoughtless neutrality. From the lowest registers of this space, small, personal revelations bubble up. These micro revelations are of a type that I can’t yet put into words in a manner that expresses their significance objectively. The closest I can come to articulating the contours of this territory is to say that I am resting somewhere between the truths conveyed in these two biblical passages:  

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." 
John 20:29

“Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
Will bring her into the wilderness,
And speak comfort to her.”
Hosea 2:14

From here, the horizon to which I look is most beautifully depicted in the words of Meister Eckhart and Saint Augustine. For those who are paying attention, the wisdom they share is a bold incentive to change, metanoia.

“The true servant of God does not desire to be told or to be given what they would like to hear or see, for their prime and highest wish is to hear what is most pleasing to God” 
St Augustine
You should know that the friends of God are never without consolation, for their greatest consolation is what God wills for them, whether it be for their comfort or not.” 
Meister Eckhart

I wish everyone a fruitful Easter, and I hope that you all experience the joys of a transforming mind, heart and will.

Small Mind & I

I have a small mind.
It is accustomed to working with concepts, 
to solving and fixing. 
It is satisfied with its questions, 
and proud of its answers. 

It becomes uncomfortable 
when placed in a container of silence. 
It perceives the possibility of demotion, 
and begins to fuss and fidget.
It shows itself to be an insecure child, 
the amnesiac offspring of 
a secular world. 

In defence of my small mind, 
and to give it its due,  
it has generated much beauty,
sculpted words, crafted sounds, refined spaces. 
It ensures that I have cleaned my teeth and paid the bills. 
I am glad of its companionship,
and grateful for its service. 

After much strife, 
we have reached a conclusion:  
we are on the same team, 
my small mind and I.

So now, engaged in the patient art 
of not-expecting,  
we sit together in quietness, 
without activity or movement, 
and slowly learn 
what we were not taught.

We meet ourselves
as we are:
a singular lens, 
an awareness, 
an emptying vessel
opening itself to the 
breath of creation. 


A while ago I was asked how I would articulate what allows me to open, to put my shields down and feel as fully as I am capable of at this point on my journey. What are the qualities or components that set opening in motion?

Four simple answers arrived instantly. No reflection was needed to uncover them. They were always there.

I open

In nature

In silence

In music

With special people

Avebury Smile