For the last 30 days my fellow Muslims around the world and I have been fasting for the holy month of Ramadan.
I am sure that I am not the only person who’s been asked: “wow so you can’t eat or drink for a whole month?” with a voice of concern and shock. Ramadan is much more than simply abstaining from eating and drinking while the sun is up. From a very young age Muslims look forward to the days when they are old enough to fast, usually at or around 15, and it starts off as a cool thing that everyone is doing. Now that I’m 25, I understand more than ever what it’s true purpose is.
Yes, a major part of Ramadan includes not eating. However it is that very absence of food and water, which creates time and energy for you to devote to other things.
These past 30 days I’ve found myself worrying more about the way I have an currently interact with people. There are a number of habits I discovered that people closest to me aren’t too fond of, but I think the changes I’ve implemented to mitigate those habits have been positive. I can’t attribute all of this to fasting, but I can say that not thinking about or worrying about where I’m going to eat lunch has saved me an incredible amount of time during my day.
I find myself having more sympathy for the countless homeless people I pass everyday on my commute to work, and I’ve even bought some of them food on occasion, (which my inner New Yorker always objects to). Self-reflection and understanding the plight of those less fortunate than I am is what I was always told Ramadan is really about, but it wasn’t until this year that I learned the true limits of the human body’s endurance and tolerance. The human body is able to endure and adapt with the pressures that you enjoin upon it. Further to that, your mental acuity responds in kind and becomes sharper. I was truly able to immerse myself in self reflection and critically analyze and adjust who I am.
The most impactful change I’ve seen in myself has been how much I’ve started listening to others when having a conversation. Without nourishment our minds tell our bodies to conserve energy in many ways, one of which is in a softer disposition. I’ve seen myself go from being the first to jump into a conversation, to the one who sits back and lets my segue occur naturally. In doing so, I’ve learned so much about people who I thought I knew well, and it created an opportunity for us to get to know each other even better.
But the real impact of all this self-reflection is that I am able to be more honest with myself about who I am and what I want from life. You can chalk that up to either the absence of food during daylight, or my quarter-life crisis; either way, it’s interesting how one small change can affect your life so profoundly.
If you’re reading this and are thinking, hey I would like to give it a try, there’s nothing stopping you. There are many articles and studies which showcase the benefits of intermittent fasting as a lifestyle choice to promote healthier habits. I would start there and see if it can snowball. The main objective would be to consume less, less food, less air, less everything; in an effort to be more connected with yourself and the world around you.
Absar Alam is a financial professional working in San Francisco who volunteers in his spare time with community organizations focused on hunger, poverty, and social justice.