Today, July 17th, is the final day of Ramadan. 30 days ago, Tomas and I began our modified version of fasting to be in harmony and solidarity with our neighbors and townspeople. We had no idea where this would take us. We didn’t even know if we would be able to complete the whole 30 days but we decided to take one day at a time, be attentive and responsive to our bodies and see where we would go.
During this past month I would say that we have definitely kept the spirit of Ramadan, even though we did not keep to the letter of it. In spite of our personal “modifications,” which I will discuss later, we benefited in ways we could not have imagined beforehand. This post will attempt to convey some of the gifts and blessings we are “taking away” from our experience.
- We cut out our main midday meal and thus saved about 30 – 40% on our monthly grocery bill.
- Because we cut out about half the food we had been eating, we both lost weight. Tomas didn’t necessarily need to but I delighted in the pounds melting away and feeling lighter. Tomas thrives on extra carbs; my body cannot process them and suffers.
- I finally made peace with caffeine in the form of coffee. I knew that I would be drinking less coffee and tea during Ramadan, so I began to wean myself off of the amount of those beverages a couple of weeks prior to the start of the holiday. I finally cut out any caffeinated drinks in the afternoon entirely and decreased the amount of coffee I was drinking in the morning by 50%. I found that I enjoyed mindfully sipping that smaller cup of coffee much more than mindlessly gulping the large one. I realized that I can keep coffee in my life in moderation, something I have been unable to do previously. The wisdom of “mindful sipping” has carried over into other areas of my life.
- We enjoyed the smaller portions of food and felt that we hadn’t sacrificed any of the variety or abundance we had enjoyed in our pre-Ramadan meals. We ate less and enjoyed more. Also, because I was eating much less, I began making much wiser food choices – I went for proteins rather than sweets and my blood sugar level became unusually stable.
- Between 9 AM (when we officially stopped eating and drinking) until sunset – we had open space and time to enjoy whatever we wished to do, including and especially doing NOTHING!
- The first 10 days or so, we marveled at how much we got done – when we didn’t have to plan, shop, prepare, eat and clean up after that midday meal. Writing/blogging, reading, internet research, mending, Arabic studies – lots of little projects and some bigger ones that had been waiting for us to “have the time to do it.” I even watered and weeded the garden a couple of times.
- But after 11 days of faithfully abstaining from both food and water for 11 hours a day, we noticed that our bodies were not coping so well without water, especially with the high heat that accompanied this month this particular year. So we gave ourselves permission to drink water (at home) as needed, especially if we had ventured out into the hot sun. This “modification” made an immediate improvement for both of us and we felt good about it.
- After two weeks Tomas was HUNGRY and asked that I prepare heavier foods to accommodate his needs. We were both very hungry one day and decided to have an early dinner with rice and then go up to the roof at sunset and have tea and cookies. We had an errand to run downtown and the temperature would be cooler for going out while most people were at home having Ftor. This was a one-time alteration of timing but it gave us a preview of what our post-Ramadan eating schedule might be. We really enjoyed that evening!
- During the third and fourth weeks, as the temperature climbed higher during the day and never really cooled off at night, we began to notice that we had very little ambition or desire to “do” anything. Energy was low and I especially felt that I was just languishing away hour after hour – what was the point?
- The point was that in addition to fasting from food intake, I especially, was fasting from the busy-ness of food and food preparation. For almost 60 years I have devoted a large part of every day to planning, preparing and cleaning up after meals. NEVER had I given myself a 30-day “holiday” from that kind of activity. If I had received ONLY this, it would have been HUGE! But, of course, God always gives us MORE!
- About Week Three the inner journey deepened considerably. Mini life reviews arose for consideration; character weaknesses presented themselves for forgiveness and release; insights both practical and profound surfaced; experiences of “walking between worlds” became common. When we napped, we would go deeply unconscious and when we awoke, we would need an hour or so to “get back.” We usually had an hour, as there was nothing we ‘needed’ to do, so that was not a problem.
- By the beginning of Week Four we were both VERY HUNGRY during the afternoons. We had to take a look at WHY we had begun this process and if we were still in alignment with that original intent. We re-committed to finishing out the 30-day period to be in solidarity with our neighbors. Also, I was just plain curious to know what would happen if we pressed on. It was starting to get really interesting!
- We made a second “modification” to our fast and gave ourselves permission to have a yogurt or a piece of fruit (at home) as needed. What I learned from this was that a “well-timed” yogurt could avert the stomach cramps/pain of going too many hours without food and carry me easily until sunset. More knowledge for post-Ramadan eating practices.
- The fourth week was much like the third – deeper inner work because of the gift of spaciousness we had given ourselves.
I believe that this spaciousness and the withdrawal from busy-ness rank among the ultimate gifts of love one can give to Self in this modern world. During Ramadan, Tomas and I have filled ourselves to overflowing with these gifts and have learned to value and be grateful for the circumstances of our lives that have allowed us to partake at this level.
It has been interesting to hear from the shopkeepers and other locals what their understanding of this month of Ramadan means. Basically, what it comes down to is that this month is their time to make space for God. A whole month in which to give back to God and receive His teachings and gifts. In my experience, it takes at least a couple of weeks to divest oneself from the busy-ness of modern life in order to have the space to hear God’s voice – that “still, small voice within” that is meant to be our rudder and guidance system as we navigate this experience called “life.”
Ramadan Kareem (Abundant Ramadan)