It’s Ash Wednesday this week. In this letter, I remember how I began fasting during Lent five years ago, and how this oddly enough led me to the Goddess.
Friday fasting… yes, that saved my life! No, it was not Buddhist inspired; I was asking the goddess for help!
I started in 2010. I’d been in crushing debt for like two years, constantly on the edge of losing my apartment, going nowhere in my relationships because I was so broke/ stressed/angry, stuck in a job that was this abusive relationship, and on and on… Basically fucked. And drinking an awful lot to avoid paying attention to my problems. Awakening to my situation, I fasted on Fridays to ask Kali Ma to destroy my problems and save my life.
But it was through observing a Catholic lenten fast in 2010 that I became a devotee of the Goddess. In February 2010, after a year of struggling with financial problems, a Catholic urged me to try a “strict Lenten fast.” He was not only a Catholic, but a foodie, and in the midst of the financial crisis and rhetoric of Austerity, the idea of the austere “medieval Lent” had found a place in the gourmet sensibility. His “traditional lent” included (1) one small meal per day, except Sunday (2) no meat, except Sunday (3) foregoing even the small meal on Friday. On Ash Wednesday, I went with the my brother to Our Lady of Victory in Manhattan, where a priest urged me to “turn away from Sin and be faithful to the Gospel” as he smudged my forehead.
That Lenten fast was powerful. I gave up meat, quit smoking and booze, and established a new rhythm of life around Fridays and Sundays… But without Faith, how could it stick?
Action–>reaction:austerity–>indulgence. Luxury. Squander.
Easter came, we cooked a goose and shouted Na Zdrowie!
I started smoking and drinking even more than before… clearly I hadn’t gotten a handle on anything!
Then in the fall of 2010, I went to the UAE to work on a project. Living in the Gulf, Fridays took on a new significance. Since alcohol is banned in the Emirate of Sharjah, I was sober the whole time, and to my pleasant surprise, I didn’t notice!
During a break on the project, I took a trip to Kathmandu to visit a friend. It was a stark contrast to go from “Arabia” to “India.”
There were armed women wearing wearing pants greeting passengers disembarking at King Tribhuvan Airport, making it clear that we were no longer in a Muslim country.
“Arabia” was DESERT-SEA-SKY-GOD, no colors, streets full of men, women all covered head to toe.
“India” was MOUNTAIN-RIVER-EARTH-GODDESS.
Women in Nepal were everywhere, doing everything. (Of course, in Nepal at that time, it seemed MOST PEOPLE were women, since men were all off working in the Gulf States or Hindustan, or still killing each other in the mountains.)
My friend invited me to join her family for Dasain, which is the greatest holiday for Nepalese, devoted to Ma Durga. Dasain is carnal. Everywhere blood and smoke and flowers. A real “God-fearing” missionary-type would probably lose their mind upon experiencing Dasain. On the day of sacrifice, the gutters were all full of blood. I saw an automechanic washing engines with blood, and adorning motorcycle handlebars with flowers. For days after, we visited all of my friends relatives. Everyone was so loving and welcoming, eating, singing, adorning each other with tikka. It was so easy to join them all in celebrating the victory of Ma Durga.
But, back in New York, crises went on. I had a bike accident on Christmas Eve. Doored. Driver took off. I got an ER bill for Xrays and some pain-killers, but no physical therapy or further care because I was uninsured and didn’t have a General Practitioner to refer me for anything. So it was a scary Christmas and I had no presents for anybody, just a worried face and my arm in a sling. My mother gave me a ride home and decided to stay over, grave with concern. By the next morning, her car was trapped, blocked by two garbage trucks that had slid into each other. She took care of me for a week, which was nice, but it was Christmastime and there was a blizzard, so we both spent the week drunk… When the new year came, I needed an intervention. Since no people in my life were making an intervention, I invited the goddess to make one!
I asked my Nepali friend, and a few other Hindu friends, about the “right way” to devote onself to the Goddess. Amalgamating all their suggestions, I arrived at the vow to fast on Fridays for 16 weeks fast. On Fridays, I didn’t work, I work white, and when I was in Brooklyn, I would play Kali-ma devotional music on YouTube.
I went back to Kathmandu during that fast. My friends mother took me to a neighborhood shrine to Kali Ma where I renewed my call for aid. And she came to my aid! I owe my life, my family, my home, to her.
Since then, when I’ve faced a challenge or adversity, I’ve fasted on Fridays. I’ve found that it’s easier to keep strict if I vow for a certain number of weeks. But I haven’t been able to keep a Friday Fast since my daughter was born. Shukravar Upvas is transformative! So, maybe it’s not suitable for new-parent life, which is all about stability and tranquility.
At New Year this year, I started a new Wednesday Fast, asking Mercury for help in starting my new business. The Hindu name for Mercury is Budh, so in a way, my Wednesday fast is Buddhist.
Thank you for reminding me of all of that.