Thirty Days, Another Journey–Day 12

Today I climbed back into the proverbial saddle. Having spent nine days traveling, followed by another seven sick, I was finally well enough to fast. In spite of having spent more days not fasting than those spent fasting in solidarity for this holy month of Ramadan, I have, nonetheless, experienced some moments of revelation. The biggest one a few days ago. As I remained ill–not desperately, but enough that I know I needed to be careful lest I relapse completely–I recognized that chastising myself as a “failure” for not “finishing what I started” (an age-old tenet of perfectionism syndrome) is not especially useful.

Rather than branding myself as a having failed at fasting, I am pivoting to realize that I have been “successful” at observing the principles, and yes practices, of Ramadan (as I understand them) as best I have been able, given the circumstances. And even though pride is probably as much a sin in Islam as it is in Christianity, I am proud of myself for having pulled myself together enough to fast today. At one point I had thought I would give up. Oh never mind, I would say to myself. Ramadan ends on Thursday. You’ve already failed to complete even half of the month. Heck, you haven’t even blogged. But I didn’t do that. I fasted and I will fast again tomorrow and Wednesday and finish what I started.

I am technically supposed to make up the days I missed, and I suppose I will at some point. For now I will be grateful to get through the next two days. I am going to conk out early this evening with the hopes that I’ll be able to write more tomorrow. But this much I know: I will end this process as I begun it–with hope and good intentions to share this journey with people around me in solidarity with my two very good friends. It doesn’t get much better than that.

 

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Thirty Days, Another Journey–Day 11

Another sick day, another fasting day lost. I have decided that there is little I can do at this point except what has always been true: my best. The best I can do is the best I can do. There’s freedom in that, should I choose to accept it. Most of Ramadan has passed me by without my active participation, neither in the fasting or the blogging about the fasting. Alas. I am positive there is a lesson in all of this for me. And while I haven’t worked it all out, I’m getting glimmers.

The intention counts a great deal, my friend J assured me. Ever the generous one, she has been my teacher and guide as I stumble my way along on this journey. I have no doubt that my friend A would say the same. I know intention counts, that sincerity and earnestness matter. But for some reason it doesn’t feel good enough in this case. Of course then I chide myself for my own internalized self-righteousness. Because I can’t do this “right,” I am a slacker, a loser. I was doing so well, and now have to count this whole Ramadan observance as a failure. As I look at it in those terms I have reached a conclusion: this is GREAT!

Don’t get me wrong, I am not a fan of failure–in fact, I am failure avoidant. I come from a long line of perfectionists for whom failure was/is not an option. As an African American woman I’ve had to come as close to perfection as I can lest I be stereotyped and judged unworthy by much of non-black society. Failure is simply not an option. And yet, in my observance of Ramadan this year, I have “failed.” Failed to fast, failed to do good deeds, failed, failed, failed. And yet somehow I am smiling at myself for being ridiculous.

The truth is that there is more than one way to do anything. I keep reading J’s words about intention and I know them to be true. It’s not about doing this perfectly, it’s about making the sincere effort to do something out of my ordinary, out of my comfort zone. This is not something to train for, like a marathon, but to get oneself in the frame of mind to honor someone else’s faith tradition. In that sense, I have been very, very successful.

I will stick it out, my Ramadan journey, through to the Eid al Fitr next Thursday/Friday. I probably won’t have a big feast and wear new, dressy clothes, and give presents to my loved ones, etc. I have partaken in the fast, but haven’t quite planned or prepared for the feasting and celebration that marks the end of the Holy month. Perhaps next year I’ll add that to my Ramadan experience–if I observe next year. (I say this every year about writing my lenten blog, and then every year I write it…)

I have one more non-fasting day tomorrow, as I allow my body one more day of recovering from a nasty cold. Then, it’s back to the fasting, which I can hopefully endure through the rest of the time. Or perhaps, I will “fail” at that too. Oh well. It definitely won’t be because I didn’t try. And at the end of the day, that’s saying something. And so it is.

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Thirty Days, Another Journey, Day 10

Sometimes people try to “game the system,” to cut corners, and cheat. This can be especially true when they think no one is watching them. I have no watcher, no gatekeeper or minder to tsk tsk me if I do something to violate my fast. And because I am not of the Muslim faith, I have no imam or holy person to whom I am accountable. And yet, I find myself minding and watching myself to honor the commitment I made at the beginning of this holy month.

Today I awoke with a really good head start on a really bad cold. You are not fasting today. I acknowledged to myself. I did read the guidance on fasting and illness. You can’t break your fast if you feel weak or ill because of the fast itself. But a good old fashioned upper respiratory infection has laid me low.

I’ve missed half of Ramadan, I complained to my partner. First it was all that traveling and now I’m sick. I’ve not fasted more days than I have. At some point, the law of diminishing returns kicks in. I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet, but, depending on how I feel upon waking it could be another non-fasting day.

I have fallen asleep three times since I started writing this, I think I’d better sign off and get to sleep. Tomorrow, as noted by Ms. Scarlet, is another day. And so it is, and so it goes.

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Thirty Days, Another Journey–Day 9

A funny thing happened on the way to the Ramadan fast–I didn’t. I was on a travel junket for approximately 10 days. I had read that I was not supposed to fast while traveling, so when I was out of state for a weekend and traveled Friday and Sunday, with a wedding in between, I did not fast. I reckoned I would restart my fast on Tuesday, when I was at my next out-of-state venue: a conference in New Orleans. I traveled on Monday, and did not fast. On Tuesday, I got up at 4:00 to enjoy my protein bar and some coffee, and then started my fast.

Sometime Tuesday afternoon, it occurred to me to text my friend A. (not his real name) to ask him about the “no fasting while traveling rule.”

Greetings, A. I wrote. I hope you are well. I have a quick fasting question. I know that during travel time one is not supposed to fast. I assume that once you are where traveling to you resume fasting, right? I traveled to my conference today and am fasting today. That’s how it’s supposed to go, yes?

Hello, M. He responded a few minutes later. If you are traveling to a new place and staying less than 1o days, you are not supposed to fast.

I pondered this for a little while before asking “one more question.”  Is it that you don’t HAVE to fast but you can, or is it that you’re not SUPPOSED to fast if you’re traveling for less than 10 days?

You are not supposed to fast. No one can prevent you from fasting but it does not count towards your Ramadan days. You will still have to make it up in the future. However, in your case you fasted today, I’d say finish the day and stop fasting tomorrow until you get home.

I couldn’t tell how I felt about the advice. On the one hand I’d be able to eat out with colleagues during the conference. On the other I’d lose what little momentum I’d built up during the first week. In the end I ate (and ate) and managed to gain three pounds during the time away. Sigh.

I’m sure my friend J is smiling at me. It was, after all, she who inspired me to begin fasting three years ago. She and A are always patient with me and my many questions as I stumble my way through this journey that was 30 days and is now more like 40. Hey, 40 days has a particular ring to it…Anyway, during this particular journey through Ramadan I have “done better” than I have in past years at observing some of the traditions. I do not pretend to be Muslim and, while I do not plan to begin practicing this wonderful and ancient faith tradition, I do wish to honor the observance of Ramadan by doing my best to follow the guidance of my friends while sharing some of the experiences associated with fasting and breaking of the fast.

Next week is the Eid al Fitr, the joyous celebration that marks the end of Ramadan. I feel like I barely got started good and now it’s over. Of course, I do have those 10 days to make up with fasting, and I will indeed get to them over time. But for now, it is enough that I make the most of these remaining days of fasting to fulfill my heart commitment to taking part in this commemoration. I do not know–of course–what the future holds. Will I continue to observe Ramadan and equally important, will I blog about it on a semi-daily basis, even as I ponder if I will continue writing a Lenten blog (next year would be the fifth year of writing my Forty Days blog.)

I suppose at the end of the day it is not about how well I fasted, or how I challenged myself not to “wimp out” and eat early. It is about what I have intended to set in motion by choosing to undertake this endeavor. It is about deepening my understanding of and connection to the faith of my friends. For them, their faith is central to who they are. I am glad to be companions with them for these 30 days, as it also allows me to feel into what I believe and what is central to who I am. I am grateful for the opportunity to do this, and will continue to seek ways to honor the traditions of others around me. And so it is, and so it goes, and so I will.

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Thirty Days, Another Journey–Day 8

Today I broke my fast early (8:30). The late May sun was still warming the earth when I took my first sip of water and ate a date. I am traveling tomorrow–you don’t fast when you travel–but was not feeling well today and decided I really need my strength for an important task I have to perform on Saturday. I am hoping god will be okay with the adjustment.

I came to understand one of the reasons I appreciate this fasting is that it is ordered and orderly; there’s a way to do it. This year, as I’ve grown a little in my understanding of the processes and principles of the fast, I find it to be another way I can order my dy; that my day is not complete until I’ve done it. Like my morning and evening journal writing and my morning meditation–these things are ordered and routine. At times when my life–especially my work life–can seem chaotic, amorphous,  and somewhat out of control, having these rituals and other things help me feel like there’s at least one ordered part of my world.

These 30 days are providing me with another structure, another self-nurturing and grounding element to my day. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be relieved when I’ve completed them. But this first week hasn’t gone too badly. I will suspend the fasting while I travel and do my work this weekend, but get back to it next week. I will be at a conference, so part of it will be a little tricky. But I will manage and get back into a groove when I get back home.

I’m signing out early this evening. Early morning plane to catch. May all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering. May we experience and know true happiness and peace. May it be so!

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Thirty Days, Another Journey–Day 7

I would do almost anything for my “baby” sister. I say “almost” as a qualifier because I try not to use words like, “always,” “never,” “anything,” “everything.” Trust me, try to construct a sentence that doesn’t contain any of those words that don’t involve exaggeration and drama (especially, never.) I equivocate by adding words like “almost” or “hardly” (as in, “I hardly ever do…whatever it is that I hardly ever do…)

So while I say I would do almost anything for my sister, I mean that there are things I haven’t thought of that I would be willing to at least try to do for her, to help her in any way I possibly can. In my head I hear the line from that song, “I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that.” There are probably things I would draw the line about and say, “but I won’t do that,” for Roo, but in this moment I can’t think of what she might ask of me that I wouldn’t do, give, etc.

Of course, here’s the other thing: she rarely asks anything of me or probably anyone else for that matter. She’s one of those giving people who provides, does for everyone around her and rarely asks for and hardly ever expects reciprocation (notice the “hardly” there…) That’s not why she does things. The Bible says, essentially, to give, not looking to receive (So does the Qu’ran for that matter) and to do so quietly and in secret, without looking for anything in return.

For people like Roo, giving is not simply what they do, it is woven into who they are. It is beyond consciously, it is their nature. I am blessed to have five siblings, each of whom has wonderful qualities, some of which I try to emulate. They are things I try to do in the hope that at some point I might be those things. Roo is a giver. One of the things I’m coming to understand is that during these 30 days, the observance is not simply about fasting, but in giving to others, particularly those who are less fortunate than we might be. I am grateful to have an example in Roo. And so, yeah, I would do (almost) anything for her, and I have yet to hit the “but I won’t do that.” I probably never (whoops) will. And so it is.

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Thirty Days, Another Journey–Day 6

It has been one of those days where I feel like I was in nonstop motion. Meetings, appointments, phone calls, and hallway conversations left me with little time to think or exhale. So here I am after 10:00 p.m., munching my kale salad and trying to string coherent thoughts together for this post. I am finding that it isn’t the fasting that I am struggling with, it’s the sleep deprivation as I acclimate myself to getting up around 4:00 a.m. to eat, write my morning journal, do my daily reading and meditation and then start my day. Then on days like today when I have evening commitments I don’t get home until late and, again, no time to take a break. This is not a pace I am planning to sustain.

I had the interesting experience this evening of dining with friends and watching them eat. For the most part it was fine. Other than a few questions about what I was doing and admiring my stamina, we settled in to talking and them eating. My partner said she intentionally chose this particular restaurant because she knows I don’t like it and so wouldn’t be sat to be sitting there watching other people eat things I loved but couldn’t eat. It is, in fact, a place where I don’t enjoy the food, though the fried rice looked really good.

So tonight will not be one of deep insights, as I am extremely tired. I will say that each day I am learning and managing things a little differently and a little better. Now f I can only get the sleep part down I’ll be grateful. At dinner with our friends, I found myself reflecting on my three-year journey in observing Ramadan. Each year I’ve gotten a little better, ” I informed them. This year is going quite swimmingly. I was able to talk a little bit about the things I am learning about the principles and practices of fasting. And while I hardly know even a little bit, I try to add the things I am learning as best I can. And at the end of the day, that’s all one really can do.

So I will sign off now, having said very little of value, with the hope I can be more coherent and better rested tomorrow. That’s the way we roll through these 3o days: sometimes I’m getting clearer on things, and others I am mired in muddled thoughts. Whether or not something is successful is often about the attitude with which one approaches things and the doing things to the best of one’s ability. That is the  attitude I am taking with me on this journey. I hope to continue the positivity right on through the end of the Ramadan. We’ll see how that all goes.

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