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A generative and reflective practice, foundational within an ecology of practices.
Yesterday I completed my 5-day solstice fast. Well, a few hours short of the full 5 days so I could line my stomach with something small before enjoying Sunday dinner in the evening - the British tradition of roast beef, roast potatoes, carrots, greens, and Yorkshire Pud, awash with gravy. Yum.
Fasting is one of my health Uber-Practices. Along with the daily exercise regime that I’ve managed to maintain with very few exceptions for the last 35 years, I’m 52 now and started exercising regularly at 17, my fasting is something that I believe is foundational to good health, and for developing self-discipline, and something I try really hard not to compromise on. My Uber-Practices give me the health, energy, balance, and resilience to pursue other important practices.
My protocol for the last 3 years has been to fast on the solstices and equinoxes, and intermittently between. I do 5 days on the solstices and 7 days on the equinoxes. Black coffee, herbal tea, water, a little salt, and the occasional squeeze of lemon in the water. For this last fast, I did have some tea with a little oat milk, and on other fasts, I might have a drink of beef broth in the evening. I also limit my exercise practice to a daily walk. I won’t regurgitate all the well-published health benefits of fasting but will mention some of the psychological benefits for me personally. The fast itself is obviously a test of self-discipline and resolve, aligned with the Stoic practice of deliberate discomfort, but the discomfort is part of a slightly altered state of consciousness that seems to come with extended fasts. I’m more sensitive, more reflective, more compassionate, and at moments have flows of ‘feel good’ tingles. There are also moments of greatly enhanced mental clarity and I’ve found it easier to articulate my thoughts to others, albeit with the occasional slurring of words.
Following the extended fasts, I certainly experience an afterglow, something often reported after a psychedelic experience, of general wellness and compassion for the world. My seasonal timing also brings a sense of ritual to the process, an awareness of the natural cyclical changes in nature as well as turning my awareness to our ancestral reverence for the turning of the seasons and the meaning derived from their mythological connection to it. So as an Uber-Practice, it ticks lots of boxes for me, and I’ve only missed one seasonal fast from the last 12 seasons.
Naming things makes them feel more real
Once you give an idea a name, it becomes more real, more tangible, and more justifiable in our minds. So I think the idea of having one or two Uber-Practices is quite a powerful one. When everything else in life crumbles, you still have a rock-solid routine that no one can take from you, something that keeps you grounded and keeps you purposeful. Personally, I think that health and well-being practices are the best candidates for an Uber-Practice. Exercise, eating right, yoga, meditation, breath work, daily walks, journalling, fasting - whatever may be right for you. I think a commitment to doing ‘something’ for yourself sends a signal to your subconscious that you still matter, you are still relevant, and you still have hope and purpose. Even if we’ve been unfortunate to suffer ill health, there is the well-known placebo effect of thinking positively about your prospects and I think a self-care Uber-Practice will add weight to this placebo effect.
Once we’ve named something, and defined it well, it seems easier to take ownership of, and more within our control. We will naturally feel more committed to it and more able to defend it from attacks or detracting situations. Hence, naming this approach an Uber-Practice.
Central to an ecology of practices
I discovered the term ‘ecology of practices’ from reading Monasticization of Daily Life by. In the article, he raises the concept of ‘an ecology of practices’. Peter argues that we all have practices, but many of us live with ‘an ecology of unexamined practices that are not up to the task of living well’. A more deliberate ecology of practices coupled with a philosophical inquiry, Peter argues, is required to ameliorate our suffering from the perennial problems of human existence and the current phenomena that cognitive scientist John Vervaeke calls a ‘wisdom famine’. Our world is awash with information but lacks the wisdom to use it well. Peter mentions the monastic practice of fasting as freedom from enslavement to the appetite, originally referenced as a self-transforming strategy of practice by German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk. There is far more background to dig into in the article and the references given.
Peter also writes about the idea of a ‘Generator Practice’:
To gain a greater practice consciousness, I recommend selecting a "generator practice." This practice should ripple out consciousness, promoting other practices to be consciously adopted and done with a hard commitment. It could be working out, meditating, breathwork, or my personal favorite: philosophical inquiry, whether in a journal with oneself or with a friend of virtue.
While the choice of an Uber-Practice would be personal to an individual, I think it makes sense for it to be a Generator Practice, as per the advice Peter gives.
I think the idea of an ecology of practices, a cohesive set of practices, each adding important dimensions to the gestalt of a sense of mastery, in our pursuits and in life, is a useful way of checking that we have the right systems in place for aspirations that are in line with our introspected values.
The Uber-Practice would sit at the core of our ecology of practices, or at the bottom as a foundation depending on how one visualises these things. It’s a central practice which must be maintained regardless of circumstances and would take priority over all other practices.
Without wanting to appear judgemental of others, I guess I do keep the thinking of Socrates in mind for my own personal ideals:
“No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.”
This blog was inspired by reading George Leonards’s ‘Mastery’ and in the section describing his ‘Tools of Mastery’ his number one tool is ‘Maintain physical fitness”
“All things being equal, physical fitness contributes enormously to energy in every aspect of our lives.”
It seems that George Leonard too might recognise health and wellbeing practices as an Uber-Practice.
The Uber-Practice is something I will make foundational to the ASPIRE Mastery Model that I’m slowly developing this year. It will belong in the ‘S’ of the acronym, ‘S’ for systems. Much is spoken about the value of setting boundaries in our lives and relationships, and the Uber-Practice comes with inbuilt boundaries, a practice we must fit into our ordinary lives without conditions or compromise.
I tend to receive varied reactions from others when mentioning my fasting. Some are interested and will want to know more. Often they’ve tried intermittent fasting but have never gone beyond 24 hours. Others are dismissive, and think it is stupid, pointless, and incomprehensible that anyone would deliberately put themselves through such deprivation. But it works for me. It brings me closer to my more primitive self, puts me in survival mode while reminding me to be grateful for our relative comfort, and food just tastes bloody great once you break the fast.
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