My Dopamine Fast – The Experience

Note: All pictures are gleaned from past experiences or Google Images. I took no photos during the fast.

Last week, I described my limited knowledge and motivations behind doing a “dopamine fast” (or what I refer to as a “stimulation fast”).

I felt strange excitement about waking up and doing next to nothing all day. But I guess my feelings don’t care about facts. I woke up throughout the night with recurring dreams of meeting with friends and “cheating” on the fast. One time I had a cup of coffee in my hand. In another instance, I ate muffins.

So I felt strange relief as I woke up the next morning and realized my fast was yet to begin.

I began by downing two liters of water and doing a few push-ups – not out of the the ordinary for me. I then skipped the rest of my typical morning routine, grabbed my backpack, and headed out the door.

One surreal aspect that permeated the day was ignorance of time. I could have left my house at 6:00, 7:00, or 7:30. I had no idea. It was summer. An overcast sky lit the world but concealed the position of the sun.

I began by walking out of my local town, across a bridge, hoping to investigate a massive new development project. What I saw astounded me. Upwards of 15 apartment buildings crawled skyward – concrete facades resembled firefighter-training towers.

Compacted dirt cried for pavement, snaking among dull-gray apartment blocks as yellow cranes swung two-and-fro, placing pieces like tweezers building a ship-in-a-bottle.

East Namak (this new community) may house nearly 10,000 new residents in the near future.

Passing the construction perimeter placed me on the Youngsan River Bike Trail – a 130-kilometer bicycle road connecting Mokpo and Damyang County. Entranced by the natural symphony of bugs and birds as well as the stunning verdant hillsides, I trekked west, away from Namak’s domino-like apartment complexes.

I walked through a non-apocalyptic version of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, resting on occasion for meditation and journaling.

I planted my ass on a concrete platform at one such stop, my legs dangling inches above the river.

Suddenly, as if ejected by an underwater catapult, a carp landed on the platform mere feet beside me. Its’ silvery scaly body flipped, flopped, and jumped like a drunken Pogo stick. All it took was a brief look around and three successful contractions to send the carp homeward bound, slapping and sinking into the water below.

After another brief writing break at a roadside rest stop, I had enough. I wanted to return to Namak Waterfront Park for a nap. I judged the sun’s position around noon.

A kindly Korean shipbuilder joined my side during my power-walk back. Although talking isn’t encouraged during these fasts, my cultural politeness won out. He waxed sweet and sour about the economy, his family, and his challenges in hiring foreign employees. I asked him the time.

“10:45.”

Oh fuck. This was going to be a long day.

I took several brief journaling moments along the way, expressing concern for the encroaching boredom.

On one hand, I craved stimulation like a two-pack-a-day puffer craves a cig during a detox.

But was that not the point? To experience cravings and let them pass?

Yes, it was. And I found that deep breaths and brief writing bouts quenched my thirst for digital inputs – an eye-opening realization I miss when phones and book are close-at-hand.

In the park, I found an elevated gazebo – the perfect late-morning siesta site. I laid my head, felt a crick in my neck, rotated the backpack, repeated, and soon sunk into sleep. Sunlight, birdsong, and happy families on Sunday morning strolls sung an intoxicating lullaby.

I woke and slept several times. At one point, a young child eyed me from the stairs and rushed to inform his father of the slumbering foreigner. I laughed at this, sitting up against the railing, again reaching for my journal.

Time again escaped me. It could be 11:30. It could be 2:00.

Subtle slowness seeped into my being I shut my backpack with a crisp zip. I had nowhere to be, no appointments, no one waiting on me. I took my time, allowing sleepy sensations to evaporate into the summer air before rising anew for the next walk.

I bounced from public park to public park from Namak to Mokpo. I performed some pull-ups here, some push-ups there, and some writing everywhere. Quiet descended upon my knowledge-hungry mind. I ceased to care what time it was. Boredom ebbed and flowed, but my deep aversion to the stillness all but vanished. Serene peace reigned supreme.

I took two more naps in two different gazebos – one in an apartment complex and another near the waterfront. Near the water, I appreciated the tender words of a Korean father to his daughter. Without headphones, people-listening became my new pastime. I was grateful for the chance to listen to so many families enjoying this mild June afternoon.

As time crept onward, however, a problem percolated in my stomach – or rather my empty stomach. I felt famished. 24-hour dietary fasts are not new to me, but my prolific walking whetted my hunger to unmanageable levels.

And after a fruitful grocery trip to Hanaro Mart, I caved and ate dinner. Some lightly-seasoned tofu, vegetable stew, and a sliced Korean melon punctuated the day.

Finally, after hanging a load of laundry, I collapsed into bed. The time hovered near 8:00 p.m. I slipped into bouts of deep sleep with several toilet trips (I went a little hard on the water).

24 hours. No phone. No internet. No music. No books. Some food. The fast was finished.

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