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Psychocreative Fasting and The Art of Inner Medicine

by Patrick Lee-Howard(more info)

listed in detoxification, originally published in issue 14 - August 1996

It isn’t everyone who will prescribe a fast for a person with PMT, diabetes, a bad heart, or cancer, still less perhaps someone with an eating disorder. Most people will tend to think of a fast as an occasional detoxing tonic; others believe that fasting should be carried out only under the supervision of a qualified doctor.

Back in 1990 I had been conducting some experiments with fasting and was asked by the GP I was then working for what the effects were when you didn’t eat for a couple of days. This surprised me, as I had no idea that most doctors were ignorant of such information. Other people I came into contact with were extreme hard-liners where fasting was concerned: water only, no exercise, no thoughts, and no stimulation. These people took the opposite view, maintaining that fasting was the only therapy we should really use, and the longer the fast was the more effective it would be.

My research into this much-abused and misunderstood art began to show me at that time not only what fasting had become as a modern therapy for purposes of detoxification, but also how we had totally lost sight of its potential as a healing tool. I realised that the general public was in need of some re-education. To understand fasting at all, we all had to understand something of its full story, from its beginnings to what we had turned it into in our modern times.

At its very basic level, fasting would originally have been used more as the animals use it: when seasonal influence dictates an unavoidable temporary absence of or shortage of food. There were times when we had to fast, because there was no food to be had. Shrove Tuesday, before Christians gave birth to Lent, was originally a time to use up any remaining supplies of food, because at that time of the year in Britain we connected more with the land and would have been awaiting the appearance of new crops, and so patiently and faithfully we would have lived on the meagre supply we had left, or sometimes even nothing at all. But we all knew that the earth would provide us with food again.

We may see from this that it was perhaps the earth herself who actually nudged us into understanding what fasting could do as a healing tool, for when we didn’t eat because we had no food, we also started to clean ourselves out, giving our physical organs a well-earned rest, and mentally and emotionally rekindling our faith. It taught us also to trust more in the earth’s resources, that we would have our food back again when it was time, so we learned patience and also probably the art of prayer and humility as we asked not to be forgotten. Thus, the spiritual aspects of fasting were born.

There have been countless types of fast in more modern times to satisfy our desires: water fasts – which most hard-liners will consider to be the only fast – fruit fasts, vegetable broth fasts, brown rice fasts, honey and water fasts, grilled orange fasts – grilled oranges? – potato fasts; in fact, if you can eat it you can usually make a fast out of it by excluding all other foods. The principle behind most, if not all, of these fasts has its roots in the earlier part of this century, following the rule that dietary economy reduces toxins, which in turn also reduces the threat of disease. A sound principle?

Let’s look at some facts

Perhaps we need to begin by widening our overall view of fasting as an art and a science, for its history is long, and very little has been written about it, beyond what the modern health therapists have pioneered in this century and the latter part of the 19th century. Most alternative therapists who will recommend fasting to their patients will base most of their knowledge upon these more modern ideas.

So, are we missing anything when using these modern methods? Did people fast very differently in earlier times? Or should we say for different reasons?

Firstly when “toxicity” was not a public word people would not have set out to do battle with it, and were, therefore, not looking for perfect health, as we indeed are today, because quite simply they had no idea what perfect health was. And this inevitably caused the act of fasting to become a backdrop rather than a central character on the stage of disease and human misfortune.

When a Native American Indian walked out alone into the wilderness to carry out his vision quest, he also happened to be carrying out a fast, which was part of the physical deprivation necessary to attune him with nature and provide him with ‘vision’, but the fast wasn’t the issue. In fact, vision quests that have been written about have hardly made mention of the fast as an act or function, many of these experiences lasting for four days and four nights, sometimes longer, and some involving sleep deprivation also. Indians weathered their ‘quests’ often by sitting alone in one place, sometimes in the blistering heat of the sun, and cold of night, other times in the case of the Eskimo in a tiny igloo with only enough room to sit cross-legged, for anything up to three weeks. True, this kind of experience was often reserved for the devoted or the shaman (medicine man), but as tough as these rituals seem, and as tortuous as they are to our modern way of thinking, we must take into account the fact that they have been going on for centuries, thousands of years even, and must therefore have something valuable to teach us where fasting is concerned.

Closer to home, in mediaeval England you might fast for a day for religious purposes, and might find yourself sitting down to dinner in someone’s home, with your delicious supper steaming away in front of you on the table, only to know that you couldn’t eat it. And there it would remain – while everyone around you enjoyed theirs – until the meal was done. But would you have mentioned the effects of your fast, or of going without food? No, because again the fast wasn’t the issue. Rather it was your faith that was at stake, and faith was highly valued. It had more to do with religion and spirituality, as with the Native American Indian: a means of deprivation in order to enhance what you had inside.

Ancient dreaming temples, to which we might turn when troubled or sick would also require us to fast so that we might increase our dreams, which we would employ as a means of finding our answers. A priest would be on hand to help us interpret those dreams so that we could understand what our inner selves or unconscious was trying to say to us. The fast was used as a method of stimulating the unconscious into providing us with insight and advice, perhaps we could say a method of clearing our channels, which we could also see as a mental form of detoxification.

Hippocrates, who advocated fasting, considered not only the character and environment of his patients, but also their dreams, their thoughts, feelings, and even their silences.

Arguably, toxicity was unknown until recent times and we could therefore not expect any of these people to consider it as a factor during the course of a fast.

My point in all this – and what it seems we can learn from these earlier fasts – has undoubtedly to do with attitude and belief. Perhaps we have become a little too complacent about our knowledge of health, a little too cold and scientific about the way the body functions, perhaps expecting the body to do all the work while we sit back and do little or nothing as a contribution. Perhaps we are at last seeing that to do something about our own sickness, and to have some personal say in what is happening to us is not just a good idea but an actual necessity? And might we not just be a little too intense about that fearful and powerful word: toxicity?

Toxicity

It is an interesting fact that many patients who have never visited our centre before and who have never read a thing about fasting, fast in a very different way to those who have read all the modern literature on fasting. A lady suffering from severe depression and who was overweight came on one of our week-long retreats and never exhibited any of the symptoms promised by the health writers of this century. She had no headaches, no nausea, no fatigue, and no unpleasantness, just a little tiredness now and again, but otherwise a good deal of energy. She must have had a good diet, I can hear some saying. She must have had no stresses at home.

This lady had what most people would consider to be a very bad diet: processed foods and lots of coffee, alcohol and much else that many would shake their heads at, but still she managed to relax, lose weight, sort out her depression, and begin a brand new lease of life.

On the reverse side of the coin, at about the same time, a young man visited our centre for a somewhat longer fast. He was very acquainted with all the modern writers on fasting and obligingly experienced all the symptoms accordingly. In fact, if some of the symptoms began to subside he would become quite anxious, with the belief that he probably wasn’t detoxifying enough; to detoxify, one had to experience discomfort and pain. His diet would have been considered healthy by many modern and alternative standards, and his stresses no different from the lady above. The result was that over the period of a three week fast he experienced a very difficult time with very few results at the end of it all.

So what was the difference between these two? They were certainly to set the stage for future fasts at our centre. It seemed that we were seeing that attitude and belief had a very big part to play in the way an individual would work through the fast. Education was a very strong influence. What the person had learned, not only about fasting but about toxicity was proving relevant. The lady mentioned above asked me what toxicity was. She had heard bits and pieces about the word, but didn’t actually know anything about it. The young man, on the other hand, knew everything there was to know about the subject with the result that he was living out all of this information through his fast because of a deep need to get well. The woman might have just stepped out of the jungle into our modern civilised world with no foreknowledge on the current trends in civilised thinking!

These days I have learned that it is advantageous not to lose too much of the simplicity of life, and especially our childlike curiosity. On retreat I help people rediscover this aspect of themselves, for it is usually there where their own capacity for healing will lie. That will provide them with a clearer opportunity to explore what their own unconscious or inner medicine is trying to say to them.

It is not, of course, the case that all people who have read little or nothing on modern methods of fasting will react as the lady above reacted. Without doubt, people do experience symptoms of detoxification, but these are generally not of such a severe nature. There are indeed other parts of us going through the experience of the fast; the experience is also mental, emotional, and spiritual, and these parts all make significant contributions. Inside, we are continuously working everything out. Our bodies may be sorting out stored toxins, but our minds are sorting out our stored ideas, our emotions are trying to balance themselves out, and our soul is attempting to understand what it is. If we do not consider these other aspects of ourselves we are leaving out a very big chunk of our own personal story, and holding back the enormous flow of positive energy that would otherwise initiate healing.

Fasting in recent times has invariably been seen as the main function, when if we observe the experiences of our earlier cousins fasting wasn’t a function at all but a screen on which we could allow the images of our personal worlds to play, an experimental landscape upon which, if we trusted enough to the natural forces, could show us via our visions and our dreams, where we were probably going wrong.

Of course, for the Native American Indian, for Christ, and probably also for our mediaeval diner, there was no doubt enough trust or faith in the natural resources to carry them through. But we in our modern age of inhibitions, fears and phobias find it extremely difficult to find trust and faith without a wealth of hard scientific facts to back it all up.

The power that heals a cut or a wound, the power that will knit bones together, was once hailed as the most powerful force on earth. It is the same power that will keep us alive when we are fasting and taking no food. Making contact with this power and maintaining communication with it, however, is something we are only just realising. And it would certainly seem that our ancient cousins knew far more about this than we do.

Following in the footsteps of these ancient cousins has not been an easy path to take, but the development of Psychocreative fasting as an art has enveloped many of these ancient ideas. As such, I have been witness to what some would consider remarkable incidents of healing: arthritic joints unlocking, breathing difficulties suddenly overcome, pains and discomforts easing for the first time in years, and even hair curling where it hadn’t curled for years! Some have referred to me as a healer because of this, but I believe that we are all healing, all in the process of mending wounds, both within and without; whenever one of my retreatants heals, I feel that I am healing also.

The aspects of attitude and belief, and trust and faith, are still a long way from the image we have of modern fasting, and these all contribute to the psychological advances that have been made in our research. We have, up till now, perhaps all been a little afraid of looking too much beyond the physical boundaries of the fast and health in general; we have been afraid of seeing – and accepting – what miracles the human being is capable of performing if given the opportunity. We have seen nothing as yet of the magnificent healing powers which the gentle but mighty human spirit is naturally endowed with. We simply need to begin to believe.

The severing of our tribal instincts caused the vision and the dream to gradually fade as a healing measure, but the dawn of psychology enabled us to rekindle that lost spirit again. And where fasting is concerned, the vision and the dream are largely unavoidable. Most people will quite naturally increase their dreams and work very easily into the imaginative self whilst fasting. A few will even have nightmares. A parallel with Christ and his showdown with the devil? Just as we detoxify our organs, so we detoxify the experiences and imagery which we do not need. A nightmare during a fast will usually represent an experience that the individual has kept locked away for longer than he or she needed. “Let me go”, it is saying.

How to fast

So, while all this is going on, what is actually keeping us alive, apart from the powers that be? What cleansing agent is it best to use whilst fasting?

There is no clear answer to this question. People have fasted on many different foods and juices and have found them all beneficial in one way or another. Some go in for strict amounts of juice made with expensive juicers; others have drunk juice from simple cartons in supermarkets and have had success.

I take the view that we need something that provides a taste for our deprived taste buds. Some will argue that we are not detoxifying unless we stick with water. But, what part of ourselves are we detoxifying? The body alone? We have proved, over and over, that that doesn’t work. Unless we fast the whole system, the whole of whatever the individual is composed of, we will not have the success we expected. So we favour a combination of apple juice, freshly juiced, and water, which at the centre we affectionately call “brews”. This is given in specially measured doses, only because I have found that it is more effective, and as we serve it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, it gives each faster something to look forward to. Conversation and exchange of experiences is also stimulated at these times, when retreatants will bother to sit and talk to each other about their lives.

We do not advise people to fast for long periods alone at home. This is for two reasons: a) because people need to have a complete rest away from their routine and pressures in order to be able to relax and view themselves objectively, and b) because as a civilised nation we are far too isolated; as individuals we tend to keep ourselves to ourselves, and we need to experience something of the more supportive and loving community spirit where we can share our problems and ills. This all adds to the healing process. I do not believe that we are yet ready for walking off into the wilderness to undergo the isolation of a long, hard vision quest. The Native American Indians lived within a supportive tribal community in the first place and would have seen isolation with different eyes.

If people do wish to fast at home, then one or two days every couple of months does no harm, providing there is ample time for relaxation and no work. I am of the old school in believing that the fast is a sacred act and should be treated with respect. Such a time should be set aside for meditation or even contemplating whilst taking gentle walks. It is a time of reflection, of working out which path we should be walking in life, of being with nature, and with oneself. Some people have come to me to fast to escape the world and themselves. I tell them that they can perhaps escape the madness of the world that is out there, but they cannot escape themselves. When we are fasting we should, without doubt, be attempting to find ourselves.

Breaking the fast

Most people enjoy breaking their fasts. Within Psychocreative fasting we make this a big, special occasion. Every faster is congratulated on what he or she has achieved, and a special meditation is prepared. Watery fruits are usually used when we break our fasts at the centre, because they are very agreeable. Some request many different foods with which to break their fasts, from bananas to toast. But watery fruits are not only very digestible, but a basic food given to us by the sun and the earth, and it is nature who we have been trying to reach whilst we have been fasting, those natural powers that we know are there within.

Of course, not everyone will appreciate going back to food. There are, sadly, many who suffer from eating distress and who find the return to food not joyful but depressing. At first, I found it hard to recognise these people before they came to breaking their fast, but with experience I now know who will suffer from this condition and who will not, even from the very first telephone call or letter. Many of these people can experience very few problems during the fast, and many would believe that fasting for them is wrong, that we should perhaps, be teaching them to eat rather than not to eat.

Again we need to be reminded that the fast is not only a physical act but also a mental, emotional, and spiritual act. Someone who is suffering from eating distress is far more likely to eliminate the experience that may be causing their eating distress during a fast, within the exercises in creative imagery that are introduced as part of the programme. In Psychocreative Medicine we do not concentrate on food as much as vision, particularly where eating problems are concerned. No one suffering from an eating problem enjoys going to a therapist and spending the whole appointment discussing what should or should not constitute the basis of a diet. That is the last thing they will want to hear. Severe sufferers such as anorexics and bulimics all have their hopes, dreams, fears, ambitions, abilities, and desires as much as anyone else. Is their desire to heal any different from a diabetic or an epileptic, or a victim of cancer? Are we not all human beings suffering from some sickness or another? Within the imaginative process, within the fasting vision, answers will surface in the same way. The condition is only the result of not looking at that vision.

Eating disorders

A lady I worked with who suffered with an eating problem was, like many of us, very prone to eating chocolate, so much so that every time she stepped into a confectioner’s she was obliged to buy a piece of chocolate. The chocolate always seemed to catch her attention and would tempt her into buying it. After acclimatising herself to the Psychocreative fasting process, she started to see that we can develop relationships with our food: the food will even talk to us if we care to listen!

Eventually, this lady got to walking into the confectioner’s without pressure, for she began to see the bars of chocolate all with smiling faces. “You can eat me if you want to,” they said, “but you don’t have to.” A polite, caring relationship had developed between herself and her addiction, and she found that she was able to take chocolate as and when she wanted it without becoming dependent, and without having to avoid it altogether.

Developing a relationship with whatever the problem is, whether it is an addiction or a disease, has become part of the Psychocreative healing process. This is what the vision opens us up to, giving us a personal opportunity to do something about our own situation. This means self-empowerment and restoration of control, which inevitably brings more confidence, strength, and self-esteem.

The Psychocreative visioning (visualisation) exercises we use during a fast have been developed over a long period of time, first being used back in 1983 when I was working as a psychotherapist. After studying nutritional medicine and qualifying as a chef, my studies into fasting began to take a positive shape and I realised that the work I had previously done on visioning exercises could now be put to good use. I was finding that the human vision was proving beneficial in so many ways.

It has indeed taken many people a long time to see the connection between the fast and the vision, until they understand a little of what fasting was to the ancient mind. In an age when we put most problems down to stress, we are going to have to begin seeing how we can take control of that stress by using positive methods in imagery, and positive ideas about ourselves.

There is no one on earth who cannot visualise. We are all gifted with the imagination, and if we care to look back we will remember that it was something we were especially good at as children. So how did we lose that gift along the way? When fasting, this gift is lovingly restored as a natural process to those who do not push it away.
People then begin to work, whilst the fast is in progress, just as the ancients did, on building up this vast, beautiful and meaningful landscape in their minds through which the inner medicine will begin to work. Finding your own garden, your own wood, your own seashore, and learning how to find your answers there is something that can seem difficult to do, but nature always lends a helping hand, and even those who maintain that they cannot visualise anything at all, begin to enter this enigmatic and breathtaking place. These are not special people, but ordinary people with different health problems and different ways of life. The common link they share is that they are all human beings, and as such, all have the same capacity to get well, and indeed the same right to get well.

Some of the fasters will wrestle with their demons as Christ did. And it is interesting to note that the word ‘demon’ was once used to describe a discarnate entity or higher being. So we are, in essence, whether we are wrestling with demons or the devil, more probably wrestling with ourselves.

Allergies

Of the many conditions I have dealt with, perhaps allergies is the most common, and the fasting vision becomes especially useful where this problem is concerned.

The first allergic person I ever had the pleasure of studying was myself. Through a series of visions and communicating with the aspect of myself that reacted annually to pollen, I was able to discover a great many thoughts, feelings, and reactions which the Psychocreative fast soon began to help.

When a severe allergy is present we are often faced with uncovering a great mystery, for even if we discover why an allergy, be it to pollen, to dust, to food, or anything else, exists, we do not always know how to unlock the programme that has been tapped into the system and the brain. This is where we are without doubt all geniuses, and I soon discovered my own genius for making this programme as foolproof as I could. No amount of pills, potions, therapies and dietary regimes had the power to break this programme down. It seemed that the same ancient and natural power was being used to sustain the allergy as could be used to sustain the fast, except that the energy was as if in reverse: negative rather than positive. That same power that the ancients used for their fasting and their vision, that same power that healed a cut, that knitted bones together was being used for a negative purpose.

I discovered that allergies seem to involve the erection of a very strong, unreachable and intangible barrier, specifically designed not to be broken down. Love, care, understanding and a curious open mind constitutes the necessary tools for eventually breaking down this kind of barrier. I have discovered that it is not indeed the allergy itself that is our problem in our modern age, but our own capacity to build strong and impenetrable barriers around ourselves. A reflection perhaps again of our own sense of isolation and loneliness?

Once we understand that we need have no barriers, they begin to wear thin and eventually fall down. As such, I have seen many food allergy sufferers sitting at my table whilst on retreat eating the foods that they claimed on their health forms to be allergic to. This usually follows their fasting visions, and the foods have been taken voluntarily, just because they happen to be on the table, so there is never any pressure to eat something that causes a problem.

It would seem that we can all indeed end up defying all the known modern laws that dictate how we should be and what we should do. Many of us still tend to walk around with a little rule book tucked inside our minds and hearts, forbidding us to truly be ourselves. In my work I always question these rules and dare people to be different. Who makes the rules anyway? Is life not all about searching and experimenting and challenging ourselves? In an environment of simple love and understanding the rules become meaningless, and we then begin to wonder what the hell they were all for.

I have seen many people “breaking the rules” on Psychocreative fasting retreats, rules that become their own rules and for which they no longer had a need. I have seen such people run down the stairs after just four days of fasting who before had claimed to have crippling arthritis; I have seen people depressed who suddenly came to life, laughing as they never have before; I have heard the cries of delight from people who have raised blood pressure and who have seen it come right down; I have heard people tell me on the telephone how the hospital told them their tumour was gone, but that they didn’t know how it had happened. And this year I was able to go out into the garden on solstice day and watch the sun go down as I have never done before, due to no uncontrollable fits of sneezing. I was able to offer my own personal thank you to nature for giving me its help.

This power that can shrink tumours and turn them into positive energy; this power that can help a lady begin menstruating after ten years of not having any periods and being a total mystery to her doctors; this power that can actually increase bone density, is within our midst, and it is within our midst if we work together with it in the truly natural and respectful way – via the ancient and powerful method of fasting and visioning.

We will certainly not achieve anything concrete if we persist in looking solely to outside factors for curing our ills. We do not want a bit of physical relief any more; we all now want to heal, and to experience healing in a big way, which is only our right. Nature has perhaps kept this secret of healing locked up for so many hundreds of years, and is now about to let us have the key again, providing we do not abuse the secret any more.

I am always truly grateful that I am able to bring this new but old form of medicine alive again to people who are sick. There is never a time when I do not give my thanks for my own healing and for the healing of others. As such, I always conduct our evening candlelight meditations wearing a simple robe, following a fasting vision I once had at the very beginning in which the image of a monk appeared – perhaps a demon? Or perhaps a higher self? But I was told through this vision that in the future people would come from all over the world for the revolutionary therapy that was about to explode in our time. And so they are coming, from as far away as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, for to date this is the only centre for Psychocreative Medicine anywhere in the world. And I feel that I am now living with my vision.

I feel that if we learn how to live with our fasting visions again we will at last find our own true inner medicine. It is time now to turn our faces towards that ancient and powerful, but loving energy, which we have all been missing for so very long.

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About Patrick Lee-Howard

Patrick Lee-Howard Dip PFT PVT MHIPM is founder of the Purist Foundation, which provides Psychocreative Fasting programmes.

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