Nowhere is fasting more important than in the sphere of cognition, and no mental process is more complex and profound than the spiritual state.
Thoughts are vehicles to approach God. Thoughts can travel back and forth between material consciousness and spiritual awareness. In their travels, thoughts find rest and comfort in remembrance of God, but are unable to remain still. They lose focus on God and soon find themselves longing to return.
The state of “not-fasting” is the normal, material consciousness of our existence. It needs little description, yet, it must be placed in proper perspective.
When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot Me. [Hosea 13:6 (NIV)].
Our inability to encompass our entire reality underlies existence. Permeating our thought process is the limited knowledge that our human senses provide.
Just as a planet can appear to be at the center of a universe, though in reality orbiting around a sun, so too can affluence and excesses produce illusions. Such illusions should be at least examined, if not completely dispelled.
We may speak poetically of the night sky, picturing large expanses of space and time. We may conceptualize the existence of life before birth and after death in metaphysical, spiritual or philosophical terms. Yet, in our mind, certainty is absent, knowing that our thoughts are frail and our reasoning is incomplete.
Fasting can be a painful admission that I am not free, that my life is enslaved, obsessed or addicted to external things such as food, drink, codependent relationships, sex, television, privacy and the like. [Albert Haase].
When we ponder the spiritual unknown, we may theorize freely about anything hidden from us, but we cannot enjoy the certainty that we achieve in the physical realm.
Our thought process dramatically changes when we fast. We can empirically observe the biological responses; the social consequences are also quite apparent; and the spiritual benefits have been proclaimed by all the great religions.
The physical world does not taste very good without food. When fasting, our concerns for the mundane and inconsequential aspects of existence tend to diminish. We find matters once thought to be of great consequence to be less significant. Simultaneously, our thoughts gravitate to more serious and weighty matters previously neglected.
Fasting expands the faculties used to understand the unseen, providing additional points of reference to facilitate comprehension. In the manner that mathematics helps us calculate dimensions, similarly, fasting generates physical conditions that aid the mind in understanding the spiritual realm.
Fasting also leads our thoughts from literal legalism to heightened spiritual consciousness. It removes dogmatic vestments of fossilized theologies that may have become unwieldy. Fasting, thereby, opens the mind to a panorama of mystical beauty impossible to retain in conscious memory.
Know, O dear readers, that there are three classes of fast. (1) Fast of the general Muslims. It is to restrain, oneself from eating and drinking and from sexual passion. This is the lowest kind of fast. (2) Fast of the few select Muslims. In this kind of fasting, besides the above things one refrains himself from sins of hand, feet, sight and other limbs of body. (3) Fast of the highest class. These people keep fast of mind. In other words, they don’t think of anything else except God and the next world. They think only of the world with the intention of the next world as it is the seed ground for the future . . . This highest class of people are the Prophets and the near ones of God. This kind of fast is kept after sacrificing oneself and his thoughts fully to God [Muhammad al-Ghazzali, Ihya Ulum-id-Din (The Book of Religious Learning)].