Nil Per Os.
These are Latin words meaning, “nothing by mouth.” And because in medicine acronyms are next to godliness, nil per os is shortened to NPO. NPO is what we medical professionals call patients who can’t eat or drink because they are having a procedure, have had a procedure and now possess a sleeping gut, have an obstructed gut, or have for some reason lost their ability to begin the digestion of food by way of their oral cavity. Being NPO is a bummer. NPO is a doctor’s order and a state of being that we throw around the hospital without much consideration for how this impacts a human body and mind. As a matter of fact, I’ll bet most of us writing and enforcing this order have never actually experienced being NPO for more than a few hours. I know I haven’t. And while some of the patients I take care of go for days and weeks, maybe months without eating, some of them will be forced to live out the rest of their days NPO. Never again enjoying the taste of their favorite food being pulverized by teeth, exciting their taste buds, sliding down their throats and then dropping into the now contented bowl of their bellies. I find many patients who are NPO watching The Food Network, as if by the penetrating force of their longing they will be able to taste the yummy image on the screen.
While I was at work yesterday in between trying to save my patients from freshly-hatched doctors, assessing bloody shit, shooting morphine into thin blue veins encased in yellow skin, and great big gobs of other exquisitely important stuff, I was contemplating my weekend. What to do, what to do? I’m about to enjoy my bi-monthly four day weekend, and I have NO PLANS! I was thinking about creating. Writing and painting and contemplation. I’m thinking I want to go inside myself and cuddle with the sweet yummy gooey-ness that I am. I was busy wondering in between answering call lights and gently directing new doctors away from the grim reaper and towards the light, how I’m going to make my weekend happen. As I’m contemplating, I get a text from my friend Deanna, “Do you want to fast tomorrow?”
My friend Deanna is observing Ramadan.
A few weeks ago, just home from France, I had been sharing my French stories along with my Parisian red lipstick with Deanna over a glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. We passed a red- lip-clobbered cigarette back and forth when Deanna mentioned Ramadan and how she and her husband would begin fasting the next morning. Yes, that’s right, I smoked a cigarette! Deanna bummed it from some children sitting at the next table after I told her how my friend Pamela and I searched the streets of Paris for red lipstick to wear on our happy vacation mouths. I shared how we had meant to stain the filters of skinny brown cigarettes with our redness , but how after securing our rose-scented lip stain we had promptly forgotten. Maybe we forgot because we weren’t drinking Sauvignon Blanc in Phoenix in the middle of Summer reminiscing about Paris and discussing the virtues of fasting as a way to know god. Pamela and I were in Paris, porous and receptive after our seven day stint of silence in the French countryside. Cigarettes just didn’t happen, but if they did, it would have been OK, because we were IN PARIS, dig? And even though Deanna and I were in Phoenix — well, who cares? When the waiter came over and asked Deanna and I if we wanted another glass of wine, we looked at each other hesitatingly, finally I said “oh come on, enjoy, tomorrow is Ramadan!” Deanna told me that in some other world I may have lost my head for this innocent utterance and then we happily ordered another glass of vino.
I took a few minutes of consideration after receiving her message yesterday and I noticed I felt a little scared. Could I commit to a full day of not eating or drinking? It’s the desert after all! Can I commit while I’m premenstrual? I was actually sucking on the innards of a tootsie pop when I received her message. I never eat shit like that unless I’m hopped up on serious hormones, and/or I’m at work, cause who has this shit lying around the house? I worried — what if I get a really BIG craving for salt or sugar — or WATER.. and what if I can’t resist???
For me, it’s easy-peasy to not talk for several days. To be held up by the structure of a silent retreat where you are surrounded by others doing the same thing. Not talking is delightful. Just sitting and meditating. Being in nature. However, not eating and drinking is another story, at least for me. Not so delightful. The thought of it sort of feels like death. This is not a fast without food only, this is NPO, no liquid, no IV fluids— For thirteen hours!
And then I decided to go for it. Because — it just feels like the right thing to do. Because I want to experience another way of being if only for a day. Because I feel like this thing that wants to be known is RIGHT HERE, but I can’t make full contact with it — with ME—because something is in the way. Because— it’s what I’m afraid of that I’m interested in. For me, the fear– if it’s the right quality of fear — the kind where my head starts to throw out ridiculous reasons for saying no— like— I’m premenstrual? This kind of fear is usually a good indicator for saying— YES!
It’s only nine twenty-five and I’m starting to feel thirsty. The fast goes from sunrise ( five-thirty-seven am) to sunset ( seven- thirty-something ) . No food, no liquids, no sex. I’m pretty confident I’m not going to be bothered by my libido, and while I may want to eat, I don’t think going without food will be that painful, knowing that I can eat this evening, but the water — AGUA!! Yes, I’m feeling thirsty. Even though I woke up at four thirty and had one iced coffee and three glasses of water— as much as my could belly hold, I’m feeling dry. I didn’t eat anything because I couldn’t fit anything into my gut after the liquid. Yes, I know that coffee is a diuretic, but not having coffee in the morning leads to a headache midday, so I was weighing my suffering.
I’m not Muslim, nor do I plan on converting to this or any religion for that matter, but I do believe that within the structure of any tried and true spiritual practice we can learn something valuable about ourselves. I try ( and mostly I fail ) to give up something for Lent each year too. I love that I live in a world where I can integrate bits of this and pieces of that to construct my own freestyle- custom-made- to- fit -ME- spirituality without any fear.
Today I will spend a measly thirteen hours or so experiencing a small fraction of the discomfort so many people experience everyday in a effort to learn something about myself that I don’t know — something of god. This something that has been tapping me on the shoulder. This something I had a hefty dose of in France. This something that is always whispering in my ear, tickling my mind and rubbing up against my heart. This something of which I speak gets some of my attention, but I want to give it more. And the more I sit down and shut up, the more this something shows up. As I see it, this short fast is just another way of experiencing this something. Subtraction as a way of experiencing. And the quieter I get — maybe the thirstier and hungrier — the bigger it gets. And I find that this something is really No-Thing.
I suspect it’s ME.