In our daily life, our hearts grow unavoidably heavy, exhausted, and weary. Our fast-paced life, our endless mental chatter, our daily chores and tasks urge us to run and rush all day long. Even when we rest our bodies at the end of the day, we rarely give our minds a break. Our mind keeps running while watching the news, surfing the net, scanning social media, or following the latest soap opera. Once a year, Ramadan comes to help us reach inner peace in our hearts and souls. Ramadan is the perfect opportunity for soul regeneration, for renewing our intention and reconsidering our life mission and meaning. It is time when we are reminded to live in the moment, truly embrace our sacred connection with God, and let it touch our hearts and revive our souls. Once a year comes the time to recharge our spiritual energy, purify our hearts, and clear our minds along with ridding our bodies from toxic burdens. It is time for refueling and recharging for a whole year to come. But How?
Jonathan Haidt in his book The Happiness Hypothesis compared our subconscious mental reality to an elephant that has its own will. And, our analytical, logical conscious mind is the rider on the back of the elephant. The rider seems to hold the rein and direct the elephant right and left… But, don’t be fooled, the rider can never force the elephant into a direction it does not want to go. The elephant is the one running the show… If the rider wants to stay in control, he better tames the elephant… And the best way of doing that is by LISTENING to what the elephant needs.
On one hand, the elephant is wired for self-protection, he only sees what is directly in front of him. He feels immediate pains, seeks immediate pleasures, and is motivated by pure survival instincts (well, food and sex mainly!) … In other words, our elephant has the control button for dopamine release- our feeling good and motivation neurotransmitter. The rider, on the other hand, is a visionary. He can delay gratification for future upcoming success. Yet, he possesses limited strength. Long struggles against willpower exhaust him so his hands get loose on the reins and he lets the elephant roam freely.
In our everyday life, we exhaust our ‘rider’ by too many choices, decisions, and useless struggles… We end up stressed and drained because we wear ourselves out with 100s of little daily choices and temptations… from resisting this doughnut with our morning coffee to controlling our temper with daily traffic, to choosing the outfit that makes us look thin or sexy, to managing our cool with the new boss or new employee or teenage boy or toddler…. We face 100s of tiny choices, temptations, and self-control decisions that wear us out. Trying to just go through life with the illusion that only by willpower we can achieve everything is just that: An illusion.
We keep beating ourselves up because we are lazy, we are weak or we didn’t try hard enough. Cut yourself some slack… regardless of how hard you try or how strong you are you can never pull the elephant if he does not want to come along with you.
As we are talking about Ramadan, We have always learned that Ramadan fasting is there to strengthen this self-control muscle… it is there to train us to be more in control of our desires… but unfortunately, we got the mechanism all wrong… if we treat our fasting as a mere training of self-restriction and self-control… we will be further wearing off our self-control muscle… this is why we see fasting people in this holy month more irritable, stressed, angry, and doing all sort of wrong stuff that fasting should actually solve not cause.
For Muslims, Ramadan fasting is not a mere physical exercise that trains us to withstand hunger.
Neither is it a mere psychological exercise that trains us to control our desires, temptations and urges.
Rather, Ramadan fasting is first and foremost a spiritual practice. “O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may attain piety (God-consciousness).” (Quran, 2: 183)
Training our self-control muscles does not mean pulling harder on the rein and fighting the elephant. On the contrary, it means making peace with this elephant and motivating him to walk the path we want to walk.
We can only do that if we slow down, silence the chatter, purify our hearts, and LISTEN.
We can only do that if we reach inner peace within our hearts and souls.
This peace is achieved by slowing down and silencing the mind chatter… reaching this inner stillness in an increasingly noisy world. The silence we cultivate should strengthen our connection with God, with ourselves, with our family, with the whole society, and with our life meaning and purpose.
So, as we are approaching the holy month, I invite you to slow down… relax… take a deep breath… roll back your shoulders… and LISTEN! Deep inside, your heart knows its path… it knows its mission, it knows its direction and its ultimate purpose… You just need to LISTEN… The silence you cultivate will strengthen your connection with your purpose, will refine your intention, and add to your sincerity.
And, of course, we cannot ignore that “elephant in the room! The pandemic… For the second time, Ramadan is coming during these challenging times. As we won’t be able to congregate in the mosques; and extended families and friends won’t be allowed to gather over dinner tables, this Ramadan offers yet another special opportunity for deeper reflection, deeper connection with God, and deeper restoration of the soul focusing on Divine love and service.