It’s Sunday June 25th 2017. I’m sitting on the porch of the small cottage I am renting for the next three days in Bali. The sky is grey. Fog is rising over the hills. The rain is pouring down. And it is glorious.
Listening to the sound of the rain, surrounded by some of the most magnificent nature the world has to offer, a sense of peace flows through me. And a desire to reflect on the last month and the last year, rises. Marking the perfect end to Ramadan, and the perfect start to my holiday.
For those of you who don’t know, I decided to fast this Ramadan. For my reasons why, please read my previous post: 5 Reasons Why I Decided to Fast this Ramadan.
After posting that article, many people asked me to write about my experiences after completing my fasting, at the end of Ramadan. Here I would like to share them with you. While there were some great highs, and some challenging lows, I learnt and was reminded of some valuable lessons during this time:
1) I have nothing to complain about. Nothing.
Until I am living under nothing but a tin roof, with no access to basic health or social care. Without clean water and food in my belly three times a day. With no fresh clothes to wear or hot water to shower under every morning. Until I spend each day worrying whether or not me or my loved ones are going to survive the next 24 hours. I have nothing to complain about. Nothing.
Lesson: Stop complaining and start living.
2) Gratitude is the root of inner peace
It’s so easy to get caught up with what society deems as “wealth”, “happiness” and “success”. And in doing so we lose sight of all of the amazing things we already have in our lives. The successes we’ve already accomplished. Challenges overcome. Wisdom gained. Those precious moments of sheer joy and happiness.
Fasting during Ramadan gave me the time to remember what is most important to me:
Family. Friends. Helping those less fortunate. Giving back. Contribution. And love.
Lesson: Instead of focusing on what you don’t have – focus on what you do have. And be grateful for it. Also, stop looking at social media and those around you to tell you what you need to be happy. Take the time to figure out what is really important to you. And focus on building a life around that instead.
3) Connection is important
Ramadan is a time for connection. Connection with something greater than us. Connection with ourselves. Connection with others. And I was able to do all three while fasting during Ramadan.
This included connecting even further with my Muslim brothers and sisters. Throughout the month I spoke regularly with Muslim friends and clients about Ramadan and Islam. Taking the time to gain a better understanding of their beliefs and practices. I also connected with my Muslim connections on social media on a deeper level while sharing my fasting experiences.
You know what I found? A lot of love, kindness, support, encouragement and acceptance.
Lesson: No thing or event can separate us or divide us. The only person who can do that is us. It’s a choice we make. We are all human beings who want to feel loved and connected. Don’t let the 1% of the population with extreme views taint your perception of humanity. Be fearless. Open your heart and connect with those around you. Life will be much happier if you do.
4) Giving back is good for society and for the soul
One reason I was fasting was to save money and donate it to an impoverished family in Bangladesh. It should be enough to pay their rent for over a year. And I feel really good about that.
Lesson: Focusing on how bad your life is will only make you feel bad. By focusing on contributing to the lives of others, not only are you doing something worthwhile, but you also get to feel good in the process. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll realise your life isn’t really that bad after all.
5) Kindness breeds kindness
“Why should I donate to charity/recycle/give back? It won’t make a blind bit of difference.” If that’s what you think, you’re wrong. I cannot tell you how many random acts of kindness I experienced and witnessed – just from talking about my fasting. People were inspired – and found ways to give back themselves.
Lesson: You have no idea the impact you can have on this world. No idea. All I can say is – Google the ripple effect. One small act of kindness really can change the world for the better.
6) Distraction won’t solve your problems
One realisation I had was that I use food, work and social media as a distraction. Fasting means fasting from distractions. And I noticed without distraction, various thoughts crept into my mind. Some of which were not always pleasant.
Lesson: Stop distracting yourself with food, drink, drugs, extreme exercise, computer games, smoking, work and/or any other distractions/obsessions. Focus on resolving the issues you are running away from and take strength in knowing you overcame them once and for all.
7) Self-care is paramount
This is a lesson I learnt last year after burning out. Luckily, that experience helped me to prepare for fasting. I knew I would be tired and so I scheduled time in every day for meditation (to recharge the batteries) and for reflection (to recharge the soul). I also made sure I scheduled enough time for rest and proper sleep. Realisation: I can perform at my best without food. I cannot perform at my best without sleep and rest.
Lesson: If you want to perform at your best – be it the best boss, best Mum/Dad, best friend, best employee, best entrepreneur, best husband or wife, best sibling – self-care is critical. Figure out what stops you from performing at your best. Resolve it, remove it, or do something to counter it. Help yourself first so you can be in a solid position to help and support those around you.
8) Food affects your mind – not just your body
For the first two weeks of Ramadan, I was eating very healthily. Following a vegan diet plus no wheat and no sugar. I felt great. Then one day I went to a children’s party. And when it came time to break my fast, the only food option was cake. And so I ate it. And not just one slice. Let’s just say – the cake did not survive.
The next morning, I looked and felt horrendous. My face and eyes were puffed up like I had gone two rounds with Mike Tyson. I was sluggish and had dreadful brain fog. And not only that. I felt low. Emotionally low. Plus I felt bad about my lack of self-control during Ramadan and proceeded to beat myself up about it. That was fun.
Lesson: A healthy body is a healthy mind. If you’re struggling emotionally, first thing: check your diet. And if you have an emotional relationship with food – focus on resolving it as a priority. Your happiness depends on it.
9) If you’re clear on your purpose – you can achieve anything
I’ve written before on the importance of having a purpose. Without purpose, life has no meaning. We coast through it like an emotionless robot. Demotivated. Depressed. Running on autopilot.
To stay motivated and inspired, you must have clarity on your purpose. Not only that you must have clarity on your reasons. Your “why’s”. And it’s about quantity over quality. The more reasons you have to do something, the more motivated you will be to achieve it.
I knew my “why’s” for fasting. I had 5. Waking up each morning and remembering these helped me to stay focused on the task at hand.
Lesson: Identify what would give you a sense of purpose at this time in your life. Write a list of reasons why you want to achieve it. As many as possible. What will it do for you or give you? What will it do or give others? How will your life and/or the world change if you work towards this goal?
There were other lessons learnt during my fast. Lessons of forgiveness, respect to self and others, looking for the good in everyone and everything, patience and self-control (thanks Mohamed ElZohiery for the reminder!). But this post is long enough as it is. Plus I am on holiday! And in practicing what I preach about work life balance – I’m now signing off to enjoy the rain. Adios!
Eid Mubarak everyone!