Fasting is like watching a dream fade away, one that shows itself for in its shiniest colours while in the act of receding.
Slowly, the world falls away.
According to Tibetan Buddhism, and probably Western medical science, this is also what happens at the time of death. We withdraw – or the world withdraws from us, depending on your world view.
This time, we embarked on a nine day fast, by far my longest. We observed our energy ebb. Before long, we were ceasing our modest activity – walking around the mountains of Dharamsala, visiting the popular chai shop hangout, where the owner very graciously allowed us to sit and sip on water. We were now sheltered in the cozy confines of our guesthouse room and the concrete balcony outside.
This was no state of impoverishment. Our balcony, without any bars or railing, drops right onto a wheat field, in front of which is a Himalayan-Indian family home and the guesthouse they run.
Walnut and other trees brush against the Earth below our feet. In the far distance, there are mountains on all sides, changing temperament each way you turn.
The sky, too, is moody. We would sit, wrapped in blankets, on our grey plastic chairs, on and off from early morning until late at night, chronicling nature’s activities: how it went so suddenly from cold to bright hot as soon as the sun peeked over the mountain; how the moon, which reached full on on day six of the fast, made its appearance over the mountain in the starry sky later and later each day; how butterflies, birds and bugs I’ve never seen before would interact with each other and the shrubs by our feet; how sun followed rainstorms with alarming speed.
The world was our screen and we were its passive, meek observers. The most interesting thing for me to watch every day was the activity of a boy (more of a young man by disposition), a very dark, energetic Indian, working the fields. I remembered him from our pre-fast days, when we’d do yoga in the room or on the balcony and he’d march past, a few metres below us, stopping in his tracks to gape at our strange body positioning.
This now seemed like a lifetime ago, when we were limbre and took our energy for granted. Now we were the gapers. Back and forth he went, carrying wheat in a large woven basket hanging off his shoulders.
Where was he taking it too? He’d walk straight – out of our view to the left – all the way down a hilly steppe of cut wheat (there is a gorgeous and expansive stepped wheat field here, and many others all over Dharamkot, the northernmost of the three tourist enclaves here).
He’d return minutes later. Often he’d be whistling, singing or even making little dancing steps as he moved. His mobility, agility and strength staggered me in my incapacitated state. He radiated life. I’ve never known anyone, especially at that age, who had had to work that hard, and did it with the body language of joy.