Oregon, United States
I’m writing this right in the middle of April, 2020. With Easter just having passed (and therefore the season of Lent ending) for many Christians in the western world, Passover only a week ago for the Jewish faith, and Ramadan starting soon – at some point during this month at least half of the world will have been fasting (usually abstaining from food) in their own way. In reality though, the entire world is currently “fasting” in other ways as we endure the Coronavirus pandemic.
The past few months have seen unprecedented changes for almost everyone on the planet. Many have endured incredible loss: of life, loved ones, previous freedoms, certainty, and human contact. At no other point in history has such a global concerted effort been undertaken to help humanity.
As of now, we’re all having to undertake some fasting: social distancing means that for the sake of our own safety and that of others, we are fasting from our normal levels of in-person interaction. School, work, and home life have all been drastically affected. There are a plethora of memes and social media posts showcasing how creative people can be in isolation – as well as how those more introverted vs those more extraverted are dealing with the situation.
We really are all sharing a season of social fasting together. Usually fasting is done intentionally as a way to focus on something noble or of a higher purpose: holiness, devotion, or gratitude for example. From my understanding and experience, the basic idea of fasting is that by denying yourself something (like food), you get automatic reminders (hunger pangs) to focus on something else intentionally. It’s basically setting up internal alarm clocks to remind you to focus. I honestly believe we could learn a lot from the discipline of fasting right now. We may not have chosen this social fast, but for the good of everyone, we’re in it… so why not take some lessons from the discipline of fasting since we’re already here.
Fasting is a great way to form a new (hopefully beneficial) habit. Maxwell Maltz published his idea that it takes at least 21 days to form a new habit back in the 1960s. More recent research shows that it takes on average about 66 days… regardless, the truth is that the longer you repeat a certain action the more imprinted as a habit it becomes. I can’t help but see behaviors like fasting that trigger an intentional reminder (hunger for food or company is a great mental notification) as a boost to help form habits.
So, to make the most of our global social fast, what new habits could we be forming? Maybe whenever you’re reminded that you can’t socialize like you normally would you take a moment to meditate, maybe you stop and list something you’re thankful for, maybe you recall a daily word in a new language you’re trying to learn… the possibilities are endless. Most of us have complained that we don’t have time to focus, meditate, learn, be grateful, etc. in our busy daily lives – this could be our chance. Because let’s not kid ourselves, when we come out of this, we’re going to need more focused, compassionate, grateful, and disciplined people to get things back on track. We may as well start the process now.