Ramadan, fasting, hunger pangs, lessons to learn

It’s 10:40 AM. My hunger pangs are wearing off and I am starting to feel better physically.

I know that in about 3 or 4 more hours the pangs will come back up but it won’t be as bad as the first pangs of the day. And then there will be a final onset of hunger around 10 minutes right before breaking fast, but that is psychologically driven. It’s like having to pee really bad on a long road trip. And knowing you aren’t going to pee, the body stops sending the pee signals till right before you finally get to the toilet, and your bladder feels like it’s about to explode.

They tell us that one of the reason Muslims fast for the month of Ramadan is to know what it’s like for the poor who go without food for indefinite periods of time. But what is it exactly that the poor have to go through? I have never been poor, I have never had a situation ever in my life where there was no certainty on whether I was going to get food. During the month of Ramadan I can just look at the position of the sun in the sky and gauge exactly when I’m going to be receiving my first meal of the day.

It isn’t the same thing that someone who is poor goes through, not knowing when or if they will eat next.  It’s not really doing empathy much justice. I’d be embarrassed to tell someone who goes without food for days that I know what he goes through because for a month I ritually abstain from food or drink while the sun is up.

But there is one thing about fasting that I don’t think most people usually face, the situation where you are hungry and you have no choice but to live with it. For the rest of the 11 months out of the year, when I am hungry I begin to look for food to end the hunger. And in the society, economy, and social class that I currently belong in, I will find food almost guaranteed.

But for that one month during Ramadan where I go without food or any type of drink for more than 12 hours, I face hunger and have to continue facing it until something happens. Usually what happens is that the body automatically stops sending signals to the brain and the feeling of discomfort dissipates. This isn’t exactly the torture that most people who has never fasted before imagine. Since most of them have not experienced the other side of hunger, they don’t realize that after a certain point, it stops being something of notice.

To be absolutely frank.. it’s quite easy to fast. But there are still lessons to be learned:

  • How to feel one of the most primal urges of our human biology and work through it.
  • How to keep from getting cranky when hungry and snapping at others.
  • How to keep from giving up at a difficult task when hungry.
  • The opportunity to feel hunger and not resist it, not do anything about it, not run away from it.

You’ve heard, I’m sure, studies of how they gave kids the choice between having something sweet now or more of that sweet later if they abstain for a bit. And how those kids that succeed do better in life. Ramadan is a ritualistic practice of increasing patience and abstaining for the long-term benefits.

And what about the moments when someone is really annoying and you want to scream and yell but there will be consequences of such actions, like at work or with your spouse. Hunger causes the the level of irritation to lower, fasting creates more opportunities to practice being patient in the face of irritations.

It’s so easy to give up when there’s an excuse available that no one will refute. Sickness, family trouble, and biological issues are a guilt-free excuse out of work or keeping commitments. As an engineer during Ramadan, being hungry is not an excuse to slow down or stay away from work. No company is going to allow that to occur every single day for a month.

Every moment in our lives is spent in keeping away from the bad feelings and trying to increase or attain the good feelings. Often we disassociate ourselves from more than half of our emotions, the negative spectrum of possibly human emotions. From the smallest physical discomfort to the most excruciating mental/emotional pain, we all want and try to avoid it as much as possible.

The outcome of that resistance is usually an amplification our suffering. As I’ve mentioned before, there is something on the other end of that peak moment when you feel hunger. And I believe that our mind and body has similar mechanisms to shut off sensory data automatically when we reach a certain point. Imagine feeling all your pains fully until you hit that breaking point and then all the pain suddenly subsides and disappears. That is an experience that only a few people have had, and only a few times in their lives. It is the feeling of utter peace.

That itself is the essence of Islam, to find and attain peace.


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