Ramadan: Naked and Vulnerable
No food during my first Ramadan left me feeling emotionally naked, the same way an alcoholic feels when in withdrawal.
Purification leaves the body, especially the nervous system, in a more responsive state. Hunger reduces the need for sleep and increases wakefulness.
Eating our fill hardens the heart, while hunger opens the heart and increases detachment from material concerns. We become more free of needs, qualified by God's name, the Self-Sustaining, Al Qayyum.
Fasting has been a catalyst for awakening in all sacred traditions. The great Sufi poet Rumi, for instance, reminds us: "What sweetness is hidden in the stomach's emptiness. We are like lutes, no less. If the sound-box is stuffed full, no resonance. If the brain and the belly are burning clean with fasting, every moment a new melody emerges from the fire."
Over time, I came to understand the gifts of the month of Ramadan. And I have also learned something about these gifts from friends.
In a gathering of American Muslims, I once posed the question, "What have you learned from fasting?"
A father of three said, "Fasting develops my conscience because I fast in secret as well as in public."
"During Ramadan, I feel transparent. My mind is clearer to reflect, my body feels light," an artist told me.
"It helps me to listen to something deeper. I discovered that there is an inner governing power within me. I have come to value listening to that, as difficult as it sometimes is," an investment analyst remarked.
A journalist said, "It teaches patience and unselfishness. In patiently enduring a deprivation, we become sensitized to the suffering of others and are therefore able to hear their need."
The essence of sacrifice (from the Latin "to make holy") is to give up, to put out of the present moment something good--and so to energize our love of God, to awaken the possibility of being more in touch with a spiritual reality.
Each year, I sense the Ramadan train approaching, and I realize it is once again time to take a ride. When I get on board, I find myself in the best company and well provided for.
I pass the night with my Lord: He gives me food and drink. Hunger is God's food whereby He revives the bodies of the sincere ones (siddiqs). In hunger God's nourishment reaches them.
--The Prophet Muhammad [Peace and Blessings Upon Him]