It is not unusual to sometimes feel overwhelmed by the many responsibilities of modern life – family needs, work schedules, social commitments, and the pressure to develop professionally or face obsolescence. It’s also not uncommon to lack focus because of the many forces that take our attention in different directions, such as the constant notifications of our social media accounts, the allure of online entertainment, the boredom that drives us to local attractions, and our own physical needs for food, enjoyment and rest. All of these pressures and distractions weigh us down, making it difficult to sift out our goals, focus on achieving them, and build the life we dream of.
Fasting the month of Ramadan, in addition to being an act of worship and a gesture of gratitude for divine guidance, is a way to regain control of our lives. There are three levels of fasting. The basic level of fasting is to abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and intimacy during daylight hours. To do this for an entire month proves to us that no physical pleasure can control us; in fact, we take control of the food, the sugar, the nicotine, the caffeine, the sex. We prove to ourselves that we can control our impulses and regulate the physical demands of human life. This is not a small thing. And there’s more.
The second level of fasting is to abstain from saying what shouldn’t be said and seeing what shouldn’t be seen. We refrain from expressing anger, sharing gossip, telling little lies, and watching violence, gore and sexual content on our screens. We realize that having control over our stomachs is insignificant if we can’t take control of our tongues, ears and eyes. Exercising that kind of discipline for a month shields us from the problems we often bring upon ourselves when we say or do something spontaneously in reaction to others without pausing to consider the effects, or when we regularly experience what taints our best selves. The second level of fasting empowers us to regulate the social and recreational aspects of our lives. That is not a small thing! But there’s more.
The third level of fasting is to resist what is useless, negative and mundane and replace it with what is constructive, positive and beneficial. It’s like cleaning your closet – getting rid of the clothes that are outdated, ill-fitting, worn out, or useless. Likewise, we purge our minds from old mindsets that hold us back, from ugly attitudes that accentuate our flaws, from excuses that keep us from being our best selves and from worthless clutter that crowds our minds. This naturally extends to activities, as we reevaluate how we spend our time and whether it contributes to our ultimate success and happiness.
If we apply the three levels of fasting and really focus on the physical, social and mental benefits, we will finish the month possessing the tools we need to stay in control of our lives. We will be able to control our bodies and minds, and we can focus our energy on achieving what really matters. We emerge from this annual training with enhanced feelings of autonomy and self-determination, greater belief in our potential for goodness and meaning, and powerful tools to help us meet our goals for the coming year. And when we falter and forfeit some of that control, Ramadan will revisit soon enough to reinforce its valuable lessons.
But before we credit ourselves with too much strength, autonomy, and potential, let’s take a moment to look at the source of this beautiful month. Our Creator, who knows inside out, has ordained this fast as a way to express our gratitude and become more conscious of Him. Practicing the three levels of fasting give us the clarity, strength and incentive to stay focused on the terminal point of this journey called life, which is standing before our Creator with our record in hand. It is here – when our deeds, words and thoughts are on display – that we will be thankful for Ramadan, when we learned to take control.