The birds always know when it’s spring. As I write this, it is not yet mid-February, but I can see them already flocking together in the skies above Glastonbury Tor, getting ready for the migration north.
Those who are remaining put – like my house sparrows – are busily swishing past me with bits of twig and grass grasped firmly in their bills. They are building new nests for their breeding season, which, for all birds in the northern hemisphere, is between February and August. This is because, unlike us slower-to-catch-on humans, the birds know that the real Spring Equinox in when the Sun is marching through Aquarius and that the real Autumn Equinox is when it reaches Leo.
In other words, the equinoxes have moved “backwards” from March 21st and September 21st since they were first set in aspic for our zodiacs about 2,000 years ago by the Greek Alexandrian geographer Claudius Ptolemy. They have shifted to earlier in the year due to the precession of equinoxes, which has moved on considerably since his day. The equinoxes precess naturally over time through the globe of our planet being slightly tilted on its side, by 23 degrees.
So perhaps we should follow the example of the birds, and start getting ready ourselves by clearing out the old winter cobwebs that veiled our dark days of dreaming to make way for the fresh, new, active, green growth springing up inside us, and all around us.
Eating right for your ancestral type is not just about what to eat, but also when to eat and when not to eat, and it is mainly the importance of the latter that I will be explaining about here as we approach the time of Lent.
What is Lent?
The church festival of Lent coincides – not by accident, I believe – with this season of renewal and resurrection of life, because lentern is an Old English word for ‘spring’.
Lent is traditionally a time of sacrifice, usually expressed in some form of fasting which lasts for 40 days, to mirror Jesus’s penance of 40 days in the wilderness.
But fasting is not just about the “atonement of sin” – unless you include that big blow-out you had over Christmas and New Year!
There is a psychological link between spiritual transformation and fasting. The practice was once an integral part of the challenges facing the initiate who was seeking transfiguration. The word “fast” itself comes from when the priest or hierophant would shut fast the door on the initiate or novice monk in his cell, and the door would not be opened again until the fast was deemed complete.
However, which ever belief system you follow, most food taboos practised by many religions were inherited from more ancient times when our wise ancestors’ knew that there were good, practical and biological reasons for giving the body less food at this time of year. It is more inclined to eat less, anyway, for the following reason:
“Spring is a new beginning …One cannot help but notice plant life pushing upwards after the winter’s slumber.
“The sight of the green colour of tender young plants nourishes the soul through the eyes, so the appetite for food decreases and the body naturally cleanses itself, not only of food residues, but of excessive desire and the accompanying emotions of dissatisfaction, impatience, and anger as well.
“The metaphorical membrane over the eyes disappears, and vision become clearer. Things are seen in new ways.”
*Extract from “Healing with Whole Foods” by Paul Pitchford.
The removal of the “metaphorical membrane” reminds us of the veil of maya of the initiate being lifted to reveal enlightenment. But there is a physiological factor also that is triggered through abstaining from food. During the hours of fasting, the body produces a shroud-like container which collects up all our waste, and then dissolves and digests it, in a sort of defragging process that scientists call autophagy.
What is autophagy?
Autophagy is a biological process that automatically kicks in once the body is relieved from its task of having to manage the processes of the digestive system. It is then free to go around and collect up all the old and damaged cells that are no longer of use and are just gumming up the works, and it then recycles them into components for vibrant new cells.
During autophagy, the body creates special membranes that encircle the old and damaged cells to form a vesicle. It is a container for the alchemy of reprocessing to take place. As the picture below illustrates, it is similar to how a spider will first wrap up its prey, to pre-digest it before eating it – in a cobweb, in other words.
My late mother always used to describe spring cleaning the house as “blowing away the cobwebs”.
How do I fast?
Last year at Lent, I fasted for three days and felt absolutely great afterwards. It seemed that my body was quietly relieved at being given a “digestion holiday” and was thanking me for it.
However, I find the best way for me to fast is to only consume food during a set “eating window” every day. Some people call this method “intermittent fasting”.
My last meal is at around 6.00 pm in the evening and then I break my fast the next day at around 10.00 am.
Scientists have found that with people like me, who eat very few carbohydrates, autophagy kicks in at the 13th hour. So my “eating window” gives me a few hours of defragging every day.
If you eat a normal amount of carbs, intermittent fasting as I practise it will not be so effective for you because in that case, scientists tell us, it takes about 36 hours for autophagy to kick in.
However, fasting for 40 hours is still less than two days, and most of it is spent sleeping. So if you started after your evening meal at 6.00 pm, then fasted for the whole of the next 24 hours, your 36 hours would be up at dawn the following day. Then if you can hang on just a little while longer until brunch time, that would give you a fair few hours of autophagy.
I should stipulate that I’m not recommending fasting for everyone, and am just describing my own experiences. Fasting isn’t for all – but if you decide to give it a try, then my only advice is to drink lots of water, to help your body flush through all the waste.