When I was 15 one of my favourite boxers was Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins. His entrance routines were something out of WWF (that’s right in my day it was called WWF) but he used to talk a lot about “hunger” and was a seriously disciplined fighter. I remember reading old copies of “The Ring” and coming across some gems:
“it’s hard to be hungry when your fridge is full of food”
The past 30 days has been the month of Ramadhan and along with other Muslims I’ve been attempting to do without food or drink (yea that’s right water too!) from the hours of 3.30am till 9pm (sunrise and sunset). If this wasn’t a big enough challenge the inner meaning of this month for Muslims surely is, with the abstinence of food playing just a small part as I will explain.
Ramadhan is a month in which Muslims are asked more than ever to spend time reflecting on their lives and improving and perfecting their actions. Of course for Hopkins hunger was the hunger to train harder, to go the extra mile, to get up after being knocked down from a clean hook. But his idea reflects a process to achieve an outcome similar to some of the themes in Steve Job’s amazing Stanford commencement address “stay hungry” (below).
In design the search for a great process to achieve great outcomes is a constant one, some companies invest heavily in adopting various processes to try and design a perfect product. Similarly in Ramadhan Muslims go through a process to achieve a higher outcome. The conditions set for fasting are a unique blend of discipline, will power, patience and reflection which have deep philosophical, social, physical and spiritual meanings.
Having completed the 30 days it’s amazing the effect that this period can have on one’s mind and body. Physically the fast is tough but with some discipline and organisation (drinking enough water, eating healthier foods and getting your waking up times right) each day the body becomes accustomed to it’s new inputs and can cope increasingly effectively. Michael Mosely’s Eat, Fast, Live Longer show’s some of the health benefits which can be achieved through fasting including weight loss, slower ageing and cutting heart disease and cancer risks. After the 30days you feel sharper, more alert and importantly more conscious of what you are eating.
But asides from the health benefits there are much deeper things you experience. For example, I have to confess outside of Ramadhan if my chicken and chips take longer than 5 mins from order to box I start getting concerned, I’ve been trained from years of fast food culture to expect everything, now. Eliminating the fast food mentality which permeates throughout my life (outside of food too) and my addiction to “everything, now” is a liberating feeling and I’d recommend everyone to experience the feeling of being unable to drink a glass of water whenever you want at least once in their lifetime. Ramadhan reminds the person fasting to have patience and that no matter how great our achievements, we are human, we are reliant on the basics of water and food. It sounds strange but this realisation is humbling in a society which coerces people to dominate their surroundings to strive towards invincibility. For me it’s a constant reminder of our dependency on creation around us (regardless of what your belief is about creation itself). It’s also a liberating lesson in how little we actually need to consume to exist.
Inevitably the fast is about discpline; waking up at random times to prepare and train your body, resisting food and water, being extra nice to people, taking time to critically reflect on your life, removing yourself from the normal daily routine is a yearly mental and physical resuscitation.
The social and community side of the fasting is vast, families come together more than ever before, whether it’s gulping down a glass of water at 3am in the kitchen or breaking the fast together at sunset with family and friends with an iftar. Again I’d recommend the experience of sitting at a traditional iftar after a long days fast to anyone. A great little initiative I came across was Dine@Mine where Muslims organise iftars with non-Muslims to share what Ramadhan is all about. Fingers crossed next year I’m going to take part (any takers?).
After 30 days of habitually resisting food and water I’m actually sad to see it go. Most importantly Ramadhan is about taking away something positive each year and implementing it in your life. For me now each time I’m about to sip some water or grab a biscuit I get a bit of an uneasy feeling “no…what am I doing…, no of course…it’s over… I’m allowed now, I mean I can, I am able to…”
In beautiful fashion the Eid at the end of Ramadhan includes a “fitr“ (charity) payment mandatory from each Muslim which goes towards food for those who live most of their lives having no choice but to fast and being unable to chose when to drink water.
In Islam fasting is recommended outside of Ramadhan intermittently and from my experiences in the past few years I can understand why. I hope I can stick to the stay hungry process some more in the future.