Amy Ward Brimmer

mother daughter wife teacher writer dreamer sister worker seeker activist minister healer student human


Fasting Like a Fool

Today is April Fools Day, known among environmentalists as Fossil Fools Day.

It is also the first of three Mondays on which I will be fasting, as part of Earth Quaker Action Team's 40 Day Fast.
When I signed up to participate in the fast, I shared this:

I am choosing to fast for three consecutive Mondays, from midnight to midnight.  My motivation to fast is to clear myself of anything unnecessary so that I may become lighter, stronger, and more prepared to participate in our direct action on April 23 in Pittsburgh. Having just returned from traveling in Appalachia and meeting with our activist allies there, I am more passionate than ever about the need to convince PNC Bank to cease financing the destruction of nature and communities, and instead to use that capital to invest in alternative, sustainable economic opportunities.  In that way, we can slow the advance of extreme climate disruption and end generations of systemic oppression.

I awoke this morning a bit earlier than usual, and noticed that I was already pretty hungry.  Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, and in spite of preparing myself to face a morning without coffee, I felt a little deprived. Then I realized that I was 6  hours into my fast already--25% done! That helped, so I went about my day as usual. After meditation and a little stretching, I sat down at my desk to work.

Now I am more than halfway though the 24 hours of fasting, and I have worked for 6 hours straight without much of a break, except to get water or pee.  That is no way to live, whether you're eating or not.  In fact, it's downright foolish.

Why do we push ourselves beyond sustainable limits, ignoring the signals to stop? In the Alexander Technique this is known as "endgaining," using ourselves in an unconscious way, pushing for some outcome at the expense of ease and well-being. Endgaining is frequently justified in the name of "efficiency," but as a way of operating it could not be less efficient, because it wears down a person (or a system or a community), and the outcome is attained poorly or not at all.

Instead, Alexander (and many other wise ones) taught about paying attention to the "means whereby" something is done.  What are the necessary steps to arriving at a destination?  How does each step emerge from the previous one and build upon the next one?  When cultivating this kind of awareness, whether in moving through the day or in building a movement, it becomes readily apparent that no one step is more important than another. Because of this, the destination itself is contained in each step, here and now, while at the same time the entire journey can be considered.

That is not what we've been taught, it goes against our conditioning. We don't want to pay attention to each moment or task within a process, we just want to get there, be done with the job, grab the reward, cross the finish line, move on to the next thing. Endgaining tricks us into thinking that if we just work harder, do more of what we've been doing, we'll succeed. The truth is, by ignoring our present moment awareness and fixating on an end, we are apt to miss the cues that give us vital information about what's up ahead, and so we gain less or miss the mark completely.

Banks like PNC that keep investing in mountaintop removal coal mining (and fossil fuels in general) are master practitioners of endgaining.  I have been so surprised at how shortsighted these financial groups are. They seem to think there's an unlimited supply of coal (or oil and gas), and if they just find more aggressive ways to extract these natural resources -- blow up mountains, drill in the arctic, inject dangerous chemicals into unstable shale fields -- our energy problems will be solved.  Not that they care a whole lot about responsible energy use, extreme climate disruption, or the crushing poverty that results from generations of an oppressive mono-economy (King Coal).  No, as long as there's a profit in it for them, it's head down, charge forward, grab what you can as fast as you can. The goldrush mentality.

PNC is the ultimate fossil fool, because they choose to ignore the facts: coal is dying, burning coal is killing us and the planet we share, and to invest in mountaintop removal is to invest in the slow death of the people of Appalachia. There is a mountain of evidence to suggest that alternative and sustainable economies can restore the health and well-being of the land and the people. But PNC hates mountains, it profits from their destruction.

EQAT activist Eileen Flanagan posted this comment today on Facebook, and it could not be more apt:
My grandfather trained as a blacksmith in Ireland before he immigrated to Philadelphia at the dawn of the 20th Century. He set up a successful business shoeing horses and trained his two sons in the trade, though he could see that many of his wealthy clients were switching to cars, so he had my Uncle Joe study auto mechanics, too, so they could keep their customers through the transition. Too bad the fossil fuel companies aren’t as smart as my grandpa who had a Fourth Grade education.

Eileen's grandfather was smart in the best sense -- he saw what was coming, and could respond. Too bad PNC's not smart like that. They could be investing in a sustainable future for everyone, not selfishly financing the destruction of the planet for the temporary enrichment of the 1%. But the "means whereby" doesn't interest them, they are too busy endgaining. 

So I am fasting today in solidarity with all those who are beginning to wake up to the fact that we are a part of the web of life and want to start behaving accordingly. I am cultivating a sense of compassion for myself and all of us, who are noticing that the way you do something is the most important factor in accomplishing any desired outcome.

Next week:  It's the Buddha's birthday! I'll be fasting again and posting more specific stories about what I am learning about the fine folks in Appalachia.