Posted on the wall between Steve's and my rooms:

Anti-Smoking Contract

I, Mark V. Zieg, do vow to forgo food from Saturday, December 1st until such time as Steve partakes of a cigarette, or until midnight of Friday, December 7th. I swear my abstinence to Steve as I would pledge my life to Laura, and shall regard the simple prospect of cheating in the same light.(signature)

I, Steven C. Sanders, do swear to refrain from cigarette smoking from Saturday, December 1st until such time that Mark partakes of food, or until midnight of Friday, December 7th. I swear my abstinence to Mark as the blood flows through my veins and as the love of Dawn is my strength. Upon breech of contract, I shall not consider myself worthy to utter "Turtles die with honor," until my worth is proved once more.(signature)

Quotes to Ponder:

"I'd never break my promise,
Or forget my vow,
But God only knows
What I could do right now!
--Meatloaf (Bat Out of Hell)

"...can't have a back door, Alfred. Might be tempted to use it."
--Batman (The Dark Knight Returns)

Although the lamination prohibits addition of new quotes, I would like to add the following extract from your most recent Merton hand-out

"When I began to think about the work you commanded
I guarded my spirit, did not expend it
On trifles, that were not to the point.
I fasted in order to set
My heart at rest.
After three days fasting,
I had forgotten gain and success.
After five days
I had forgotten praise or criticism
After seven days
I had forgotten my body with all its limbs."
--Thomas Merton (The Way of Chuang Tzu)

It seems nearly every major religious leader has at one point or another advocated or demonstrated fasting in order to gain spiritual enlightenment. Why is that, do you think? What is it about physical emancipation that suggests religious revelation? Is it that we associate corporeal contentment with mental sluggishness, or palpable pleasures with a lapse into the horizontal? For whatever reason, ascetics have been denying themselves every conceivable gratification of the flesh for thousands of years, often going far beyond simple spurning of luxuries and actually rejecting life-sustaining necessities for as long as possible.

One ancient authority on abstemious life who actually renounced it is Siddhartha Guatama, who after six years of starvation and one yogurt-induced (humor me) Enlightenment should know. Yet the Buddha's claim that asceticism is ultimate fruitless has been generally ignored by the religious public; why? I suspect because it implies that the solution we seek is already before us, and it is our own blindness which keeps us from finding it. We would rather believe that the answer lies at the end of a well-defined path, so that we may follow in the footprints others have made and so claim our just reward. But the Buddha clearly states that Enlightenment is not to be found outside of the self, nor buried so deeply within the self that one must cause damage to pluck it out.

If I may compare the Buddhist concept of Enlightenment with awareness of Berry's Greater Economy, then the Bible makes the same claim within the Christian context: "Truly, truly I say to you,unless one is born from above, he cannot see the Kingdom of God" (John 3:3). "From above"--referring to Siddhartha's Enlightenment, Berry's awareness, Niebuhr's responsibility, Tillich's vertical. All of them claiming that the answer (God) is already among us, if we only knew to look. (I know that those four can't really be compared so simply, but I'm trying to infer the probable response each would have to the minor issue of fasting.)

Well, why am I starving myself, then? Because hunger, when purified through many days of prayer and rigorous meditation, can serve as a focus for concentrated thought. The thought (or not-thought) that is necessary to find the Spirit within. Four days later, have I forgotten gain and success, as Merton intimated? No--perhaps because my desires along those lines have never been terribly strong. To be honest, aside from the occasional dizziness and lightheadedness, I haven't felt much of anything save a diminishing grumble in my waistline (also diminishing). And I suppose that's really why I'm continuing. Because somewhere along this path there must be something that encouraged three millenia of hermits, even if it is only a tiny hint of what lies beyond.