Today was stressful for us, we are trying to buy a house, and (as we all know) that's a roller coaster. There were other anxiety causing situations as well and I found myself deep in the pit of anxious thoughts today. On top of that, I had to see and smell food all day long, while I drank my water and wished I was doing anything other than fasting. But I finished Day 3, and I felt stronger about it than I felt yesterday. May tomorrow be even stronger. In the meantime, I wanted to say a few words about that pesky anxiety.
I am definitely among those who would rather escape into a distraction than pray when I'm anxious. The spiritual counsels of St. Paisios of Mt Athos have been the most helpful spiritual thing I've read for dealing with the constant hum and then spikes of anxiety that I feel for as long as I can remember.
"If we work to correct ourselves and look more intently towards our "inner" activity rather than our external, giving precedence to divine help, we can in turn be of greater and more positive help to others. We will also achieve an inner serenity, that will quietly help the souls of the people we encounter, because spiritual serenity reflects the virtue of the soul and transforms souls.
When someone applies himself to external activity before having polished his spiritual inner state, he may struggle spiritually, but he will be fraught with worry, anxiety, lack of confidence in God and frequent loss of serenity. If he does not improve himself, he cannot say that his interest for the common good is pure. When he is liberated from the old self and all things worldly, then he will receive divine Grace and be not only at peace with himself, but also able to bring peace to everyone else. But if he has not received the Grace of God, then he can neither govern himself nor help others in order to bring about a divine effect. He must first be immersed in divine Grace and then utilize his resulting sanctified powers for the salvation of others." - St. Paisios of Mt. Athos, Vol II of his Spiritual Counsels, "Spiritual Awakening".
I certainly feel like I fit the description of someone who has not attended to my inner activity nearly enough in my life. I didn't think it was all that important, also, I mistakenly thought that realm couldn't be changed or developed for the better. So, I fast even though a strong part of me hates it. The part of me that doesn't think anything can change, the part of me that constantly thinks everything is falling apart. That part of me is wrong, no matter how loudly it shouts in my inner being.
What does that part of our inner activity give us anyway when we indulge it? We're happy for a few minutes getting what we wanted, food or some other distraction or indulgence. You feel good for a minute and then you need more. That's called sacrificing and ordering your life around a passion, a passion that doesn't deliver anything and just enslaves you more. The realm of food isn't neutral, scientific terrain - it's a spiritual struggle. Didn't Jesus say in His temptation in the wilderness, "Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God"?
It's a false path, a delusion, a fantasy when we think that indulging our passions will deliver. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, how many celebrities die tragically from depression? What are they depressed about? They go places, see things, eat food and live a life the rest of us will never live. Why are they still empty? Because satisfying our animal spirits, as John Maynard Keynes called them, doesn't deliver serenity or make us holy. It's one thing to know it intellectually. It's another thing to live it and learn it. And this is part of the point of my fast, the lesson needs to travel from my mind to my soul. God help me and Lord have mercy on us all.