It’s very rare a conversation inspires me to write something. In the past 2 weeks I have had two such conversations. One of them lasted 1 minute and went a little bit like this:
On an Instagram story I posted about my love for fasting and the communal spirit of Ramzan- in my head, a harmless remark saying, I love fasting so much!
A friend of mine messaged: “Is it ok if I don’t?”
That response startled me so much- because, one I realized how my remark could have seemed like it was coming from a higher moral ground- or was taking a subtle dig at all those who feel another way. I could not have been more embarrassed. Second, because I realized how scared we are? Of not feeling the way we are supposed to feel? That we ask others if it’s alright we don’t share the same sentiment? When I told her I will write about this, she was scared people might feel offended and that thought upset me even more.
At this time, I was embarrassed not only on my behalf but on behalf of all those who have turned religion into a privilege for a few and not a light, for all. That even questions are no longer welcome. I don’t want to delve into controversial debates but to answer my friend’s question:
Is it ok that I find fasting hard? And difficult? And have not yet found the joy (you speak about)?
The answer is- OFCOURSE YES.
All over the world, rituals such as fasting (fasting is part of almost all religions) are considered part of “religious practice”. The word practice implies, you get better at it with time. That you are not meant to know it all- feel it all- from the beginning. That some days will be good, others will be bad. I still remember the time I used to be miserable while fasting- it wasn’t until 2 years back that I started to enjoy it.
I had to be up for office around 7 am- after sleeping at 4 am- and for a 20 something year old, that was a struggle (that’s another thing- the younger you are, the harder it is to tolerate hunger and sleep). Then travelling 2 hours to and from office in the heat- working on dull excel sheets- I would be lying if I said anything but that I found it incredibly difficult and not joyful.
But this is where I want to make my main point- I was always curious about religion. However pretty soon I stopped asking questions because apparently- forget answers- over here, there was such a thing as a wrong question. A wrong feeling. If you found fasting or praying hard, you were somehow lacking and should hang your head in shame before those who don’t.
Years later I understood why I didn’t enjoy fasting back then- besides the crazy work situation and poor sleep cycle. I didn’t understand why we fast (in its truest sense)- over and above it being a religious commandment. I understand this question is not allowed but I am sorry- I had this question. I truly wanted to understand its purpose and spirit. I have always been like that.
Slowly over the years, as I continued to look, I found “my answers”.
- In some of the most credible personality tests, impulse control is one of the highest rated predictors of success in life. You can look up fun experiments such as the Marshmallow Experiment to better understand what I am saying here. Simply put, people who are able to better control their impulse are more likely to be happy and successful. Impulse control is extensively practiced in several other religions and then Buddhism takes it to a whole new level. But my point is- I learnt in great detail how fasting is one of the best ways to get your impulse back in order. (Forgive me for oversimplifying a very vast subject but this is just to tell you what was one of the first things that fascinated me about fasting- last year when I did the silent fast/aitekaf, I learnt so much more and that I shall share soon in another article)
- It builds gratitude. One of the single most desirable dispositions in life to be happy/peaceful- is to feel grateful. Every religion and every rule book will tell you that. I don’t know about you- but that first sip of tea after I break my fast- makes me want to kiss the cup! Fasting is one of the most amazing ways to inculcate gratitude, if you pay attention.
- It builds empathy!!! Or should. And herein lies the biggest rub. Do you know that it is scientifically proven that morality has something to do with whether or not you have eaten? That is to say- we do behave in weird/strange/unbecoming ways when hungry. That tells you something about the people around us (in a country like Pakistan) who we criticize for not having the best manners. The truth is, they just don’t have enough fuel to practice higher cognitions- as Sahir Ludhianvi said and I quote, “bhook hisse latafat ko mitaa daitee hai, muflisi akhlaq ke saanchay main nahi dhal sakti”.
I could go on but that’s not the point of this article.
I found my answer, my inspiration. Yours could be different. That’s the beauty of any spiritual exercise, it means something else to everyone. The joy then can come from, finding your own answer and in the meantime, being honest about how you feel.
The assumption that we should all be born with perfect faith and continue to have it all our lives- is against the spirit of any religion. In Islam in particular- the endeavor is referred to as a path. A path takes you from point A to B- it can go up and down, right and left and the struggle to stay on it- to stay the course, to walk the path- is the test. The appreciation also is for the effort and not necessarily, the result.
So yes, it’s ok to find fasting hard. In several holy scriptures, you will find holy people sharing their distress over a trial. We are just ordinary beings han! Fasting is hard. it is precisely why it’s such an exalted ritual. It’s ok if you don’t find joy in it (yet).
It’s like when you start exercising- in the beginning, it’s very hard. With time it gets easier. Some fall in love with it, others only do it because they must. Then some love running- other love to lift. You come to your own answer- if you keep at it- and give your self the space to falter, fall, stumble and ask questions.
The pursuit of spirituality and success in this life or the hereafter- is not a single point, where you arrive.
Nobody ever arrives.
We all try and each path is unique, which is what makes the journey so beautiful.
Just keep walking.