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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Thirty Days, Another Day–Day 5

And every warrior must have a little rest, a little peace, so she can do her best.
~~from “I Wish You Well,” by Meg Christian

This warrior needs a little rest. I have known it for quite some time now, but don’t often say it out loud. To do so is to acknowledge that I am exhausted  and perhaps shouldn’t push as hard as I do. While it’s that push through it, tough it out, stubborn determination that has allowed me to be relatively successful in the important work I’ve done over these years, there comes a time when we all have to have a little rest lest we break. I am approaching that point of burnout where I need to ease up a little on the pedal and coast for a bit.

Today I was talking with my wellness coach, as I do about every three weeks. While she asks me about my diet and exercise (doing her wellness thing) she knows that how I eat and take care of my body is integrally connected with how I feel. She knows how hard I push myself and offers a variety of strategies to help me live a healthier, more whole life. We’ve been talking a lot about stress and burnout and how that affects my self-care.

“You’re not doing Ramadan again this year, are you?” she asked me, with the tiniest bit of concern in her voice. I could almost hear her mind thinking, Given everything else you’re doing to your body, I know you’re not fasting, right? But being the professional that she is I could hear her pull that back, and regain a bit of her neutrality.

“Yes,” I replied perhaps a little defensively. I went on to tell her that I was being careful (I didn’t mention how little sleep I am getting as I adjust to eating very early in the morning and late in the evening.) and that I’d promised my partner that if I felt like I couldn’t handle the fasting, I’d dial it back.

I promised that if I couldn’t manage the physical requirements as well as the mental and emotional tax, I would stop altogether. And I will if I hit the wall, but being the stubborn human that I am, I will push through and do what I need to do. Can one overdo perseverance and persistence? What’s that? I can’t hear you.

So the journey this time is only 30 days. I can do this, I tell myself, and I have to believe that I can. But every warrior must indeed have a little rest. And so I am moving toward that. I am always concerned about “the next thing,” that comes up. After I get one thing done, something else pops up clamoring to be done. I have to get better at that. In any case, I am grateful to have been able to be doing pretty well so far. And given the circumstances that matters. And so I persevere and keep pushing on. It’s what we warriors do.

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Thirty Days, Another Journey–Day 4

Today I had to put $1.50 in the swear jar. I started the swear jar when I gave up swearing for Lent a number of years ago. Even though I don’t formally observed many Christian holidays any more, I generally have joined in the spirit of either giving up something for Lent or adding on something, or both. Four years ago, I added on writing a daily blog throughout the Lenten season, and every so often I give up swearing for Lent.

Ramadan, it seems, is not simply about fasting from sunup to sundown, but also abstaining from a variety of other things, swearing being one of them. So, I reinstituted the swear jar this year. Each time I swear, I add 25 cents to the jar. Today I had a series of irritations that prompted me to blurt some of my favorite expletives. Dang it! I found myself resorting to the occasional swearing substitutes, but lapsed back into the real thing from time to time. I think I’m square with the swear jar. God forbid the commute back to work is bad tomorrow (the drive home is when I am more likely to have to pay into the swear jar.) On a particularly bad day at work, I’ve been known to put 5 dollars in the jar ahead of time, because I know I won’t be able to control myself. I do my best to refrain, but in the heat of the moment, and with the stress of the day, sometimes I can’t help myself. It gives new meaning to the phrase “paying it forward.”

Today my mood matched the weather–cloudy and cold, with occasional brief glimpses of light. Mama said there’ll be days like this. I have learned to roll with them. One of the things I appreciate about Lent is that the solemnity of that particular season allows me to explore the more difficult days in the life, ministry, and death of Jesus. As I slowly feel my way into understanding the principles and practices of Ramadan, I hope to be able to understand more of the whys and wherefores of the tradition.

As I accustom myself to participating in the cycle of fasting and breaking the fast, on those occasions when my stomach rumbles with hunger during the daylight hours, I can feel compassion arising for those for whom hunger is part of their daily reality. I have had very brief brushes with hunger over my lifetime; I cannot imagine experiencing it week after week, month after month, stretching into years with little sustenance. As part of my observance these 30 days will include making donations to area food pantries.

A number of years ago, when I was experiencing a difficult period of unemployment, I began volunteering at a local food pantry, preparing groceries and distributing them to the clientele who came in. It was one of the more deeply meaningful and important work that I’ve done in many years, and I find myself wanting to return to it. I can think of few things more important than helping provide food to those who really need it. Perhaps someday soon.

The journey of these 30 days is once again providing me with opportunities to sit still for a few moments to reflect on the the things that touch my life, the lives of the people around me, and those far away from me. And while I follow no specific faith tradition, I do pray on a constant basis. Sitting still in meditation and prayer is a good thing, it sure beats the heck out of having to put money in the swear jar. And so it is, and so it goes.

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Thirty Days, Another Journey–Day 3

Yesterday I learned something to add to my “Do’s and Do Not’s” list: DO write your blog before breaking your fast. Instead, I worked outside for a while, did some work on my conference presentation, and made dinner (no I didn’t taste anything as I prepared it.) By the time I’d finished eating and cleaning up a bit, it was nearly 11:00 p.m. I nearly dropped off to sleep twice as I was writing last night’s blog post, and was nearly catatonic when I finally published it and posted on my Facebook timeline.

I had to drag myself out of bed this morning at a little after 4:00 if I was going to have my protein bar and coffee before daybreak. As soon as I finished it, I puttered around for a little while before climbing back into bed at around 6:30 to get a bit more sleep. When I reemerged it was a bit after 8:00. It’s a good thing it’s Saturday and not a weekday. Then if I got up at 4:00 there would be no going back to bed, but pulling myself to get ready for work. Note to self: write blog early in the evening.

Thus, it is currently 7:00 p.m. and while I am a bit sluggish and my stomach is a bit rumbly, I am awake enough to capture a few thoughts while my mind is still somewhat clear. One of the things I did this morning between breaking my fast and going back to bed was to do a bit more reading about the fast. Apparently, one traditionally breaks one’s fast with a sip of water (I did that part right, though I think the 700 milliliters constituted more of several gulps than a sip) and eating a few date. Oh dear. I don’t have any dates. Amazon.com to the rescue. My Medjool dates (two packages from two different companies) should be here in time to eat when I break my fast tomorrow. I do have some dried cranberries, but I don’t think they would be an appropriate substitution.

My friend and former coworker J, who taught me a bit about Ramadan as well as a number of phrases in Arabic (things like, “hello” and “thank you”), introduced me to Medjool dates. You should always have dates for emergencies, she informed me, pulling some out of a drawer and handing them over. I discovered that I loved them, and have periodically purchased them over the years. Then I took a look at the nutritional information and realized that, while dates are good for you, they are high in sugar and calories. So I stopped popping them, in fact, I stopped buying them altogether to avoid the temptation. Now for a brief time, during these forty days, I will enjoy a few dates when I break my fast. My guess is that when Ramadan is over, I’ll stop eating them again, or only every so often as a treat.

I find myself wanting to learn more about what else I should be thinking about during these 30 days, what other things I can do. In a sense, the observance of Ramadan reminds me a little bit of the Christian observance of Lent–it’s not just about giving something up, but also about giving something of ourselves, volunteering, giving to charity, doing good deeds, helping others. So I will continue to ponder and study and learn about the principles and practices of Ramadan. And I will reach out to J and A, my other Muslim friend and coworker with whom I have conversations, about the how to’s (and how not to’s) of fasting and observing Ramadan.

I have had moments during my writing of my Lenten blog, Forty Days (and variations of that title every year), when I am a bit irreverent about a variety of things related to Lent and Jesus and his ministry. I will (try) not do that in this blog, at least I will try not to. I have no familiarity with Islam as I do with Christianity, having been raised and spent time in various permutations of that faith. If I get a bit cheeky in this blog, it is not intended to be offensive; my goal over these 30 days is more so to poke fun at myself as I earnestly but a bit haphazardly observe Ramadan in solidarity with J and A. By the time I understand better what I am doing and why, the 30 days will have passed. I can only hope that whatever gods or spiritual beings are watching will be blessed by the effort. And so it goes.

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Thirty Days, Another Journey—Day 2

Today was a good day. I worked from home, sending emails, communicating with my team using Google hangouts, and planning a conference presentation via Zoom with a colleague from New York. After being inside for much of the day, I was relieved to be able to go outside and engage in some good, hard, physical labor, cutting and clearing brush from several parts of “the back 40” where I live.

It was also a good fasting day. I realized I’d already made it into some kind of competition, that I’d “do better” on my fast today than I did yesterday. That’s the kind of perfectionism that I share with some of my siblings, that good isn’t usually good enough and one can always do better. As I look back over today, though, I did do better. I got up earlier and was able to break my fast before light appeared in the eastern sky that I can see from the window in my living room where I drink my coffee and write in my morning journal and participate in my daily practice. I checked periodically to be sure the sky was still dark as I ate. This evening, I was able to wait until the sun was down (sometime after 9:30) before I broke my fast. I did prepare dinner while I was still fasting, being careful not to taste anything I was cooking.

And so now I sit, and it’s 11:00. That happens when you eat dinner around 9:45–the winding down process and bed time are pushed ahead a couple of hours later than usual. This practice is messing with my sleep patterns as well as my digestive system, but it’s all good. I know I’ll be able to make the necessary adjustments as the days progress. Somewhere in the middle of this I need to develop a balanced perspective, to remind myself that it is not, in fact, a competition, that I’m not out to top myself. I am engaging in a spiritual practice that I hope will truly allow me to be both in solidarity with my Muslim friends, as well as a practice that invites reflection on a variety of issues. Those I will explore over the next moths.

I still have a lot to learn during these 30 days about the true meaning and purpose behind fasting. In the days ahead I will be sharing information and experiences as I continue on this journey. And while I didn’t know where it will take me, I’ll be grateful nonetheless for the experience. And so it is, and so it goes, and so I will…

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