Educating the Soul

There is an unseen sweetness in the stomach’s emptiness! Man is like a lute, neither more nor less: When the lute’s stomach is full, it cannot lament, whether high or low. If your brain and stomach burn from fasting, their fire will draw constant lamentation from your breast. Through that fire you will burn a thousand veils at every instant–you will ascend a thousand degrees on the Way and in your aspiration. [Jalauddin Rumi, Divan: Ghazal 1739]

Lazily we glide through existence, procrastinating and wasting time on our most frivolous passions. Stuffed with trivial, inconsequential fodder, our thoughts idle along, without direction, interrupted only by curiosity for the latest marketed fads. Must-win games, must-have toys, must-see shows, served as appetizers for must-eat meals, strike fanciful chords of ephemeral pleasures, quickly defecated from our inner chambers.

When satiated by food and drink, an unsightly metal statue is seated where your spirit should be. When fasting, good habits gather like helpful friends. [Jalauddin Rumi, Divan: Ghazal 1739]

When we need vitalization, energizing of our soul into recognizably valued activity, fasting is the prod. At times, we must discipline our spirit as if it were a rebellious child that insists on having its way. We become accustomed to comforts and take God’s blessings for granted. We greedily consume without appreciating our good fortune and assume that we are owed an easy existence. Such a spiritual condition can greatly benefit from a fast.

Don’t spoil and fatten the ego by giving it the pleasurable experiences it desires, for this will only give it more power over you . . . Because when the “stomach” of the ‘commanding self’ [nafsul-amara] is filled and becomes comfortable, it becomes increasingly insolent and rebellious. Therefore, it is necessary to limit it to [only plain-tasting] bran bread so that this ‘commanding self’ does not become strong, insolent, and rebellious. Mawlana Jalaluddin Rumi, The Prince and the Christian Ascetic (part two) Mathnawi V: 3480- 3506, (Anqaravi, Commentary).

Fasting educates the soul. It rehearses lessons innate to our conscience, reminding us of our inherent compassion, hidden beneath layers of overindulgence and lusts. It calls to attention distracted thoughts stripped of emotions by extravagant yet insipid existence. Fasting drills us on a catechism of humility.

The emptiness of a fast surrounds our reasoning and evokes submission to the Divine. As awareness of True Reality increases, we lament our separation from God and cry out for forgiveness. This cry accompanies the universal chorus of repentance that resonates only when we empty ourselves of arrogance and pride.

Be empty of stomach and cry out, in neediness, like the reed flute! Be empty of stomach and tell secrets like the reed pen! [Jalauddin Rumi, Divan: Ghazal 1739]

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