I’m torn. My Follow-Up post, written a few days ago, follows both the Muhammed Ali funeral, which I was privileged to listen to on my drive out, and the Orlando tragedy, which I was spared news coverage of because my son does not own a TV.
Yes, I am torn. Do I replace the Fast Follow-Up post with my thoughts on (and links to) the various Ali eulogies that moved me so very much? Frankly, juxtaposed against the tragedy in Orlando, I was doubly motivated to do just that. But I will not. I am here in Ohio (I had a book gig on Saturday) to be Grandma, and being the Grandma takes time and energy. So, writing my Muhammed Ali remembrance will wait until next week.
Tuesday, I went into Cleveland with my older granddaughter, Isabella, and spent the day. If you follow me on Facebook, you may have seen a few of my posts. We did enjoy that chocolate shop! Here’s another one:
And that, of course, came first.
So, here is the one that was originally scheduled to run today. My Ramadan Fast Follow-Up.” Next week, I will run my thoughts on Muhammed Ali.
It’s over. That’s first.
As of last Thursday morning when I woke up at my normal time (7ish) to pack for my current trip, and take on the “traveler” role, my fasting days were behind me.
As set out in last week’s post, I decided to experience first hand the Ramadan fast this year. I wanted to understand a bit more of what was involved in observing it.
However, rather than getting much clearer on Ramadan and its pull, I learned more about myself in the process. But isn’t that why we take on these challenges, why we push ourselves out of our comfort zone? It’s fitting actually, for the Ramadan fast is about self-reflection and introspection.
Can we ever really learn about ourselves if we don’t get uncomfortable?
My two days left me with eight pages of notes. I will refer to them from time to time.
Monday night, I knew I’d have to set an alarm to be up early enough to eat before sunrise. But when was sunrise? I’d never looked up the official sunrise time before.
I set my alarm, then turned over and went to sleep.
Sitting in my usual breakfast spot by our bow window, the house quiet, Sasha a bit confused, I was struck by how still everything is just before dawn. Then I opened the window. The bird song was practically deafening.
I finished my oatmeal and, savoring my second cup of tea, wondered, “Why am I doing this?”
Am I impulsive? Is this like my jump into Peace Corps? A jump off that metaphorical high dive, the one where I “figure it out on the way down?”
In that moment, three hours before I am usually awake, that’s how it felt. Rash.
Where was that 20-year old college senior who’d so boldly proclaimed “I’d never fast. I’d do lots of things for my beliefs, but I’d never fast” in response to an invitation from her favorite (at the time) professor.
Dr. Murray Milner, a sociology professor was inviting selected students to his home for a discussion on “How far are we willing to go for a cause?”
“I’d never fast.” I’d said, so very quickly.
That girl felt very far away.
I knew I felt afraid too, as I sat there.
Not so much a fear of feeling hungry, it was a fear of becoming dehydrated.
And of getting out of whack with my body. My body has been a reliable ally as I’ve come to trust its messages. Now I was planning to ignore these messages. This was something I hadn’t expected this.
Then, sitting there that first morning, long past sunrise, my tea mug empty, I noted that my hips hurt and wondered if it would be considered “cheating” to take a pill during the day.
Why was cheating so much on my mind?
I got on my computer three and a half hours earlier than usual and noted only that “there are a lot of food ads on Facebook.”
Funny what you notice anew.
Reading more about Ramadan, I jotted these notes:
The farther you live from the equator the longer your day is. It’s 18 hours where I am. 22 hours in Canada and Russia; 11 hours at the tip of South America and Australia.
I’d be fasting over the summer solstice! What was I thinking? I obviously hadn’t.
sick, elderly; travelers; menstruating, pregnant, and nursing women are exempt.
Yes, I underlined travelers. You see, I knew I’d be leaving Thursday morning and be gone for a week. Travelers are exempted from fasting during Ramadan, along with the other groups listed. I continued reading about Ramadan:
The morning meal is called suhoor; the evening meal, iftar. The common practice is to eat a date before iftar.
And I began noticing the many jokes on social media about “having a date every night.”
Then, I took a three hour nap.
Yes, most unexpected was the sleepiness. But, the sleepiness hit, I just gave in to it. What’s that Oscar Wilde quote?
When I got up, I drank three glasses of water with lemon, then wrote, “I feel fine. No hunger pangs.”
Of course I didn’t feel hungry; I was filled with 36 ounces of lemon water. Still, I planned to continue.
That afternoon, I worked outside hanging laundry on the line and weeding my kitchen garden. Shortly after, I noted, “This is going well. Not even hungry.”
But at “tea time,” when Woody and I sit over a cup of tea to catch up on our day, all I thought of was NOT TEA. I noted in my journal that, “I’m not feeling very spiritual at all.” I was getting crabby.
Julia Roberts, as Anna Scott in Notting Hill, told us she’s been hungry for nineteen years. And with that memory, I realized I can’t recall ever feeling hungry, really hungry, in my lifetime.
I’ve always been able to eat whenever I wanted, eat because it’s in front of me, or because it’s just meal time.
I would eat again that night, I knew. And remembered there are far too many who are also hungry, but won’t get to eat tonight or tomorrow or for a very long time.
Islam emphasizes charity work during Ramadan.
And the multiple benefits of that work felt clear. They work at meal sites, collect clothes for give-aways, and do a variety of other activities.Aside from the benefits to the receivers, the distraction surely benefits the givers.
Such was Day One. Certainly my attention was focused on my physical self. I did no special journaling, other than the notes I’ve shared.
Then, alarm again set for 4:30, I went into Day Two, waking up a half hour before the alarm went off. My plan for the second morning was to eat a double breakfast and load up on water. So, after an extra glass of cold water with my pills, I started bacon to cook while I ate my usual oatmeal. But when I went to add the eggs to the pan, I was comfortably full. Eating more, just to “stock up” felt gluttonous. I didn’t want it. So, I wrapped up the bacon and put the eggs back in the fridge.
I spent part of the day responding to the comments on my initial Ramadan post, and enjoyed this link from Merril Smith to an NPR story on the batch of toys and books for children learning about Ramadan. It’s 3:40 minutes.
What’s my takeaway?
After the water, which I also drank during Day Two, the hardest part for me was the unexpected sleep deprivation. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have been so surprised, for when I’m dehydrated, I get sleepy. I also get nauseated and dizzy. Yes, going without water was not going to work for me.
I also was conscious that I was doing this alone, and I’m quite certain that, were I to ever do this for the full month, a sense of community would be vital to my success.
This little experiment of mine left me with more questions than it answered, as most experiments in my life do.
Why do I typically react so quickly when I first feel hungry? Why not get more information before I strive to make it go away? I do that with fear. I’ve done it with pain. Now perhaps I’ll do it with hunger.
How quickly my brain shouts “I can’t” when, actually, I can. Which voice to listen to? The one shouting “Just get a glass of water for Pete’s sake.” The one whispering, “It’s not worth it. Give it up.”? Or the one telling me “Hang in there. Give it time; you’ll see.”
I’ll ponder these for a bit. Journal, explore, discuss with someone else. Reflect. Chew.
Yes, I’ll chew on the ideas that have come forth through this mini Ramadan fast, taste the metaphorical flavors and textures, then decide if I’m ready to swallow, digest, and make my own. Or, will I spit it out?
How’s that for irony?
As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome. I have no particular question for you today though.
Eating BACON, during Ramadan? didn’t the irony of that strike you?
This is a fascinating thread and I shall look forward to seeing how you progress. It’s curious to note that you’ve never felt hunger before and I imagine that was a strange sensation.
By the time I worked through Ramadan in the Middle East I was already quite familiar as I usually skipped lunch and had previously worked for extended periods in refugee camps in Africa where all the people were starving. Although food was available for the staff, I felt bad about eating when others couldn’t, so lost a bit of weight starving alongside them. After all, I started from a much better base than they did, so it was easier for me. All the same, the hunger pains became a familiar daily accompaniment.
I can’t say that it ever struck me as a spiritual experience, but them my mind was focused on other purposes. Perhaps if I’d done it for religious reasons that might have been different. But when we were able to eat, there was NEVER bacon!
I never gave the bacon, as bacon, a thought!! It’s just what we had handy. That is a bit ironic I suppose, but then I was never trying to be Muslim, just understand what it must be like for them. In the future if I get curious again, I’ll begin by asking one, “what’s it like to fast?” Much simpler.
I agree with Ian, the bacon is funny.
And yes, sunrise is early this time of year and sunset is late. 🙂 The birds here also begin belting out a full choral concert at 4 AM.
I also thought it was odd that you’ve never felt hunger before. Fortunately, I’ve never lived in poverty or circumstances where there was no food, but I’ve certainly been in situations where I’ve been very hungry. And during my first pregnancy I was SO hungry all the time. What I would find most difficult is not drinking anything. I think it must be different if you’re part of a community, but I certainly couldn’t go about my usual day (work, gym, etc.) without eating and drinking.
The chocolate shop is more my style!! 🙂
I’m glad you enjoyed the NPR link.
Hi Merril. In hindsight, I should have said, I’ve never sat in my hunger before. If I feel hungry, I eat. Quickly. So I’ve never before taken any time to play with it. Turns out, it’s not so bad. Distraction helps.
I guess that makes more sense. 🙂
My takeaway in the form of your question: Can we ever really learn about ourselves if we don’t get uncomfortable?
I see ambivalence written all over this – physically, emotionally, and spiritually too. You were brave for this attempt. I enjoyed your post and the comments – which felt a little bit like being at Chincoteague. : -)
I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I’m curious though about your ambivalence comment. Can you say more?
I got that impression from the questions you asked yourself as you progressed, probably from jottings in your journal. It’s not a bad thing – just an observation.
Janet – ‘appreciate the honest and self-reflective post. It’s given me cause to think a bit about fasting, which I’ve never done in earnest, and have always regarded with mixed and muddled thoughts. For what it’s worth, it seems to me that there are possibly two “sides” of meaning to the practice — one of which appeals to me (purification of heart and mind) — and the other that makes me somewhat less comfortable (notions of obedience, righteousness, and old-school religious sacrifice). That’s not meant as a knock on the religion or the practice, but rather a purely personal philosophical observation, which obviously merits more thought on my part. In any event, I’ve learned a bit about a practice that’s largely been a mystery to me all these years. And I do very much like the increased emphasis on charitable works during the month, which strikes me as something practitioners of any meaningful belief system would do well to mimic.
Thanks for your thoughts here, Tim. I’m finding a carryover effect: I continue to be more cognizant of what (and why) I’m eating. This was an unexpected benefit.
Janet, you have shown us through this brave undertaking how the lived-experience brings it all home. I know how you feel about not knowing true hunger. It certainly puts our normal hunger pangs into perspective. It seems when our physical needs are not being met, we have to dig into our spiritual wells for nourishment. Thanks for sharing your valuable lessons. I found your comment about the importance of community to be intriguing. Misery loves company and somehow makes the sacrifice more bearable.
This puts the restrictions of a renal diet into a different perspective, doesn’t it Kathy? The difference between the enforced restriction of the renal diet and the elective sacrifice of a fast is very marked and the challenge of the latter makes it all the more poignant.
Hi Ian, I hadn’t thought about the mandatory vs elective element. I agree it takes a lot more discipline when one has the freedom of choice.
And your life doesn’t depend on it as it does with the renal diet. You have to go through that to really understand it, and there are so many things you cannot eat as well as limits on the amount of fluid – of any sort – that you can take on board during the day. The self discipline builds with practice, and how well you do depends on the strength of your will to live well and comfortably. Kathy will know all about this by now and her faith will be a great booster as well.
Yes, the community building aspect of the month continues to intrigue me too. Common goals also unite us. I certainly felt, though briefly, more connected to the millions currently caught up in the refugee crises around the globe.
Thanks for weighing in.