Many cultures mark the transition between the end of winter and the arrival of spring. Chinese New Year literally translates to “Spring Festival” in Chinese (春节), and marks the beginning of spring in the Chinese calendar (generally falling around February or early March—near the start of meteorological spring). Nowruz, or Persian New Year, actually falls on the Spring Equinox.
Now the spring equinox is nearly upon us. And I’m seeing the signs of spring all around me. Already the snowdrops and skunk cabbages have burst through the not-so-frozen and definitely-not-snow-covered ground here in Connecticut. The days are lengthening. The maple trees have sent their sap to their crowns, the birds are singing, and the tree frogs have thawed and are swimming around their ponds.
And soon enough, humans will be planting spring crops and navigating the increasingly challenging nature of nature (our fault) to ensure those crops produce the food we need for another year on this planet.
Already it’s about time to start planting seeds indoors—which happens typically 6-8 weeks before the final spring frost. And this sowed the idea for a simple fast that both recognizes and yields to Gaia. Typically fasts are a set period of time; partial or full; some traditions contain fasting to certain hours in the day (as in Ramadan); and in some of these traditions, what time of the year the fast falls (during the 365-day calendar) varies as well.
My offering: a Spring Germination Fast that we can use to mark the start of spring—with the length of the fast being marked by the growth cycle of the seeds you nurture. It’d go like this:
- Take some viable seeds and plant them in moist soil. Ideally, choose seeds of plants you will sow into your garden (or a container if no garden is available) after the final spring frost—which will determine when you choose to fast (for gardeners in warmer areas you may want to choose meteorological spring, for colder climates, closer to the spring equinox).*
- Mark the planting of those seeds as sacred time. Quietly reflect on your year, and on what you want to achieve in the coming year. Also offer gratitude to Gaia for a year’s worth of nourishment. Remind yourself of your purpose: to heal and serve Gaia. The sustenance Gaia provides is to support that purpose.
- With the planting marks the start of this liminal fasting period. What you plant, to some extent, will determine how long this fast will continue (hence why you should plant viable seeds!). Most seeds can germinate in 3-4 days (though sometimes can take longer). This useful article suggests placing your seeds in a warm place—maybe on top of a heater or near a sunny window to keep them warm and germinating sooner.
- Ideally this will be a full fast, just drinking water and teas to support your fast (herbal without sweeteners, but they can contain caffeine). The idea, after all, is to use these days to consciously reflect on how Gaia has provided for you this past year, how you will serve Gaia, and how you will merit Gaia’s continued sustenance—reminded regularly both by the discomfort of the fast and the tending of your seeds. However, If you are new to fasting, it is recommended that your first full fast lasts less than this—the first year, try just one full fast day and then switch to intermittent fasting—keeping foods simple (no sugar, alcohol, or meat) and limiting eating to just 6 hours a day (which at this time of year is about noon to sunset and thus can fit naturally with Gaian meditation practices).**
- Each day, mindfully care for your seeds, especially checking moistness levels. You want to ensure your seeds germinate. Also check your own moistness levels—it is important to stay well-hydrated during fasting. When the first seed have produced its cotyledon (the embryonic leaves—often in a pair of two), the fast is concluded.***
- As with any fast, break your fast gently. Start with a small amount of simple food: dried fruit or a simple soup is recommended.
- Say a prayer of thanksgiving when breaking your fast.
I’m sure the specifics will change to a degree as this is a newly constructed ritual and I’m overly relying on the Internet for germination times. If your seeds don’t germinate after two full days, switch to intermittent fasting unless you are an expert faster (and know your seeds’ germination time well). As I am not an expert faster (or gardener!), this year I will plan one full fasting day, and then switch to intermittent fasting until my seeds germinate (which means I can sustain this fast for many more days if my planting environment or the greenness of my thumb turns out suboptimal). And as I gain experience with fasting, I’ll continue to expand the length of the full fast component in years to come.
My son, Ayhan, will be participating too, though truthfully he’s more excited about the seed planting (which is also getting us ready for our garden)! And as he is 7, his fast will focus on simply skipping sweets for those days. So no calorie restriction, as I can’t imagine that’s a good idea for a 7-year old, but by participating in the seed planting and symbolically fasting, it is a way to involve him in this practice, connect him with Gaia, and normalize a spiritual fasting ritual even in young ones (which is essential in cultivating a living faith community).
Finally, if you try this fast (or have any other suggestions), do let me know how it goes in the comments below.
*And of course, if you have other Gaians in your area (or virtually), pick the same fasting start day in order to support each other.
**Intermittent fasting has been increasingly discussed in the news, including the metabolic value of 18-hour fasting. That means restricting food availability each day after a certain time and not eating again for 18 hours (say 6pm until 12pm the next day). Research suggests humans, like most large animals, are designed to endure periods without food and this helps to utilize stored fat and clear metabolic wastes from their bodies. And according to this journal review, intermittent fasting can lead to “increased stress resistance, increased longevity, and a decreased incidence of diseases, including cancer and obesity.” However, the health value for intermittent fasting takes several weeks to notice so don’t expect those benefits from a 3-5 day intermittent fast. Of course, the other benefit of fasting is that overall you eat fewer calories, which, while small, benefits Gaia’s health as well as our own.
***The fast is delineated by the growth of the next generation of life on Gaia—whether that’s two days, three, even six will depend on the seeds, the warmth of the environment, and so on. By making the end dependent on the seeds, instead of watching a clock—as fasting often leads to—we’ll instead connect (and yield) to a cycle of life rather than an artificial cultural construction (clock time).