The Ramadan moon was sighted yesterday evening and today my family and I - along with about a billion and a half other Muslims - are fasting. People often ask, Why? Why take on this difficult practice? Surely God doesn't want you to suffer and be hungry?
The part about not eating or drinking water trips up a lot of folks. "NOT EVEN WATER?!" Yes, not even water passes these lips from before dawn to sunset. The act of going without food and water is significant for many reasons. The most obvious and telling is the recognition that there are people all over the world who don't have the choice but to go without food today, and every day. By choosing to experience extended hunger and thirst, I can honor those who are hungry without choice. I can allow myself to know them and their struggle.
When sunset comes, and it's time to break the day's fast, I am faced with another choice: to gorge myself and once again re-enter the world of pleasure and plenty, or to eat slowly, and savor the incredible flavor and healing power of food.
On the most superficial level, Ramadan is about abstaining from food and drink. Beyond that, however, Ramadan is about remedying my heart and habits and all the parts of myself that need a little cleaning up or loving. It includes abstaining from speech that doesn't elevate all those involved. It is about reeling in my physical appetites so that I may spend a mere four weeks looking at the appetites of my heart, soul and mind as well.
Our one-click, consumer-driven culture is an outgrowth of our most basic instincts: If you want something, take it. If you have an itch, scratch it. If it breaks, get a new one. If you're hungry, eat! These impulses come from within, and are supported from without with such ubiquity and ease that we hardly stop to question their validity. And when we do, we might deign question needing another pair of shoes. But lunch? Lemonade?!
Isn't it enough that we spend the rest of the year tending to the whims of our stomachs and tongue? Four weeks in the pursuit of happiness for our hearts? Yeah, I'm into that. Because when we're hungry, we can start to see ourselves more clearly. We lose our tempers, become competitive for every last crumb, swear more easily, and tend to draw inward. We're taught that in this most sacred of months, Satan is locked up, thrown into Satan jail for the duration of the month. All that arises in anger, in judgment, in folly, in passive aggression or just straight aggression - that's all on me this month. No blaming Satan.
So for at least this month, I've committed to watching the processes of my mind and unwinding the judgmental negative feedback loops that I'm caught up in. Instead of jumping to judgments about others, the invitation is to stay inside my own desires and impulses. What makes me want to do that? What makes me see fault in another when the other very viable option is to see their beauty? And sure, a judgment of beauty is still a judgment, but it's one that is pleasing and kind. Ramadan is about becoming more kind. It's about keying in on the kinds of "judgment" that connect us to one another - the kind that would increase our love for each other. Becoming an alchemist to my thoughts and transforming them from a tool of division to a tool of unification.
On a deeper level, Ramadan is about the spiritual practice of growing in knowledge that I am not self-reliant and that it is indeed the work of God that I have food each day. And what's more is that it is not actually the food that feeds us. In the same way that I leave my body temperature, heartbeat, liver function, and breath to regulate themselves, this month I let go of my attachment to control a bit more in the other parts of my life. If God were to will it so, our food would simply manifest before us, the way it did for Lady Mary. In the same way that gurus and spiritual masters can survive on nothing but air for lengthy periods of time, this belief that it is indeed God who feeds us- that food is nothing but a mere form. It isn't the apple we eat that provides our sustenance. It is actually God who provides this to our bodies. These nutrients could indeed find their way into our bodies should God will it so. And yes, I know this sounds like a lot of lofty abstract spiritual mumbo jumbo to some of you, but that is only true because of the world view you have.
For the gurus who do indeed live this life, this is real. And for those of you who see an apple as the source of your satiation, well that is real and true for you. I acknowledge that. This realm is about experience. It isn't about these words and the ways we describe experiences. Allah says, "I am the opinion of my servant." So if you believe God to be nil, yes, God in your experience is nil. And if God is everything, well then it must follow that God is everything.
So here I am, an hour left in the first day of my fast this month, and boy am I tired. My head hurts, and my patience is wearing thin. I'm about to put my son to bed and the euphoria that descends in these last few hours of fasting is starting to set in. My body feels weak and I only have energy for sweetness. I don't have the physical energy to be uptight, upset or any sort of way but super chill. This weakness is my secret super power right now- a portal to a gentle, calm, serene stillness. This conservation of energy for that which (and especially those who) truly deserves it. A smile at my son as he falls asleep- Holding the hands of my husband as we pray over our food before breaking our fast- Just enough energy for the things that matter.