Today is the start of Ramadan which many of us non-Muslims will recognise as the time of fasting that leads up to Eid. I do a fortnightly radio show on health and wellbeing on Spice FM and yesterday, as it was the day before Ramadan, we focussed on preparation for fasting. This would realistically only take up an hour of a two hour show. I knew very little about Ramadan, or indeed about fasting, but thought that if I was to observe fasting then this might also be a good time to become a little more aware of my mental state and to take time to fill up my mental reserves and so I thought it might be good to talk about mental wellbeing in the show too. This turned out to be a bit of serendipitous planning. Not only is this week mental health awareness week but, when my co-host Shamshad and I got into the discussion about Ramadan, I was struck by how this 30 days of fasting is about far more than restricting your food and drink. It’s also a time to do a complete stocktake of your life.
I want to start by saying that as we discussed the various practices that should be observed during Ramadan, I was struck by how they are common, if expressed in different ways, to many religions. Fasting itself is common to a lot of religions. However, there are many who don’t follow a religion or are atheist; does this have anything to say to them? Here are my takeaway points from our show yesterday and you can judge for yourself [Nb. Neither Shamshad nor I are religious scholars, this was just our view and interpretation]. I personally feel that doing this type of stocktake and basic maintenance once or twice a year would be beneficial.
- How are you? How are you mentally and physically?
- How are your relationships with the people you care about?
- Have you been kind; to yourself and to others? If not, why not?
- Are you happy?
Are you coveting your neighbour’s ass? Sorry, couldn’t resist that one, but what I actually mean is are you looking at others and wishing you had their lives and does that then either make you feel worse about yourself or mean about them? Wanting to achieve the kind of lifestyle that others appear to have is not wrong but recognise that what you see is only the surface – they have a whole life of stuff going on that you know nothing about. They might actually have it all, but they’ll still have their frustrations and their downs. Using your view of someone and their life to inspire you can be a good thing but often people become envious and try to tear that person down or use that person’s lifestyle to beat themselves with. This is wasted energy and doesn’t bring anything positive so let it go.
Take time to reflect on all the things that you have to feel grateful for. In a world where we are constantly striving to achieve more, get more, do more (see above), it’s important to stop and really recognise all the many things that we already have and feel real gratitude for them. This might be gratitude to someone or something external or it might be just being thankful. Each morning I spend a couple of minutes feeling grateful for everything from my health, to my daughter, to having clean air to breath and water to drink; it’s amazing how much ‘richer’ I feel as a result.
Give service in some way. This might be donating money to a charity but can also be about giving time to help others. However you choose to do this then do it meaningfully and in good grace. What I mean by this is, don’t just go online, donate some cash and forget about it; or volunteer some time and then go around feeling all righteous and lording it over others that don’t. Really consider who and why you want to help, be mindful of what your act of service is whilst you’re doing it and expect no reward other than the knowledge that you’ve done something for someone else. The other important consideration here is to take time to make time to give service; don’t just cram it into your already overloaded schedule (see my other blog Are you busy?).
Finally, take notice of what you’re putting in your body. If you’re fasting, this is obvious. You need to be sensible when you break the fast that you’re putting good food in and not just cramming in as much high fat, high sugar food as possible before you start fasting again. But if that’s not the case and you’re just observing a period of stocktaking and maintenance then also look at what you eat and drink. Are you treating your machine well? Are you giving it premium fuel or red diesel? If it’s red diesel then are you willing to live with the consequential damage to your engine? Perhaps during your stocktake and maintenance introduce just a couple of good practices. Swap out some drinks for water, eat one or two more portions of fruit or veg each day, smoke a little less?
As I said, this is by no means a blog by a religious scholar and I ask Muslims and followers of other religions to overlook my generalisation, paraphrasing and appropriation. But to me there is some wisdom in these practices that all of us can learn from. I’m off now to do some stocktaking and maintenance. Ramadan Kareem.