I am overweight, impatient and obsessively optimistic: three traits I have worked on all my life with minimal success.
I am fat most of the time, impatient when people cannot read my mind, and prefer to view life as “sunny side up” even when it is scrambled.
To change, I could go to Weight Watchers, visit a psychotherapist and restart my yoga practice. All these are good strategies that have worked for me in the past but nothing sticks for long. I want to be a better person — don’t we all — but I know only too well that it is hard. It seems that our humanity gets in the way all the time.
Recently, I was invited by my friend Engin Sezen of the Intercultural Dialogue Institute to join him and his community in Kitchener in celebrating Iftar — the evening meal Muslims engage in to break their daily fast and celebrate Ramadan. I went because I was curious about Engin’s community and, to be honest, because I thought the food would be great.
Needless to say, after the meal I was full, not only of great Turkish food, but also energized with ideas that I had not explored before.
So here is my take on Ramadan, which ends today in Canada.
Once you wrap your head around it, this annual practice reminds me a lot of the 40 days of Lent that Christians observe. Essentially I can see Ramadan as a discipline that is practised every year.
The discipline starts with setting a daily intention to be the kind of person you most want to be and for those who seek God — the kind of person God meant for you to be.
Here are the four key insights I took away from my visit:
•Fasting: By not eating or drinking (or having sex, etc.) from dawn until dusk you empathize with those who experience hunger and thirst. Your sacrifice leads you to be closer to God and, over time, this deepens your self-understanding and engages your sense of empathy.
•Service: During your fast and spiritual quest, your journey is to help you to become more giving as your hunger and intention help you relate to those hungry and in need.
•Discovery and Resiliency: Thirty days of fasting is a long time. Imagine setting your intention to be a better person daily and to having your hunger and thirst present as a constant reminder of your intention, and also as a reminder to look for opportunities to serve others.
•Community: The very practice of Iftar focuses on a group of people breaking their fast together. This might be a group of families, members of a Mosque, or — as we saw in recent pictures — whole neighbourhoods.
During dinner, Engin shared with me his belief that practices of any religion are best judged by the kind of people they create. In Western media, the negative side of Muslims is most often portrayed. We are quick to use the example of the few who are violent and angry, at war, or have strayed from the Muslim teaching of service and love to exemplify all.
Nearly one quarter of the world’s population is Muslim. Most are trying to be better people, just like you and me.
I deliberately called myself a white fat guy at the start of this article to make a point. I want to be better than that, even though it is hard.
What I came to realize through my recent opportunity to better understand Ramadan is that I can be better.
What I need is to find my own ritual and intention — an observation that causes me to set positive goals; heal my spirit; reach out to others in service; and embrace the power of community.
It might not help me to lose weight, but I am convinced it will make me a better person and more open to those around me — especially those in need. For this reason, I embrace Ramadan and the more I can learn from those who practise it.
Paul Born of Waterloo is the author of Deepening Community — Finding Joy Together in Chaotic Times, and President of the Tamarack Institute. Learn more at www.deepeningcommunity.org