My First Ramadan: Week One
Guest Post By Archimedes Aquino
This is my first year fasting as a Muslim. I converted a month before the start of Ramadan. What has been most difficult is binge eating and drinking from 3:00-4:00 am so that I can fast from 4:00 am- 7:30 pm. The binge eating leads to getting bloated to the point of nausea, with my belly bulging like a potbelly. I then become obsessive about how to conserve my calories throughout the day. With the intention of obtaining taqwa and closeness to God, I am becoming much more aware of my choices and what I am willing to expend my limited calories towards. This, in turn, gives me awareness into how to prioritize what is most important to me.
So far, I’m only feeling the physical effects of fasting at noon and 3:00 pm as my body experiences the stomach emptying at noon, then going into my reserves at 3:00 pm. At both times I feel light headed for about 30 minutes, but then it goes away. When it’s time for Iftar, I am surprised by how little it takes to satisfy me. I don’t ravage food or guzzle down water out of extreme starvation or thirst…like I thought I would. I also find myself eating less junk food since I want to make the most of the limited space in my stomach to eat the most nutritious and filling foods. I find myself intentionally eating and drinking in a way that prepares me for the next day. It’s a lot slower than what I do in the morning and my main focus is to rehydrate. I find myself struggling when there is food or water within range to be seen or smelled. Usually I avoid looking at or being around the things that would trigger my mind to start obsessing about what I can’t have yet. This has been the extent of what the physical struggle of Ramadan has been for me so far.
At a recent fundraiser Iftar dinner, a Shaykh spoke about how the fasting process teaches one how to detach from worldly concerns in denying oneself of food and water from dawn to dusk. I add this concept of detachment when I’m trying not to obsess about drinking water or eating food. I think about how I have successfully been able to do this in my relationships, both personal and professional, even before I took my Shahada. Prior to converting to Islam, I had studied Buddhism for a short time. What I learned from Buddism is one way to free yourself from suffering is to free yourself from attachments. In my profession as a counselor, we are also trained to care without getting attached to our clients due to the temporary nature of the counselor client relationship. Such training conditioned me to appreciate the temporary nature of relationships and to avoid attachment in order to ease the pain when it is time to let go.
My struggle with attachment continues however with money. I grew up with a sense of not having enough of it and was constantly reminded of how much I should appreciate my parents hard work and sacrifice to earn it. In depriving myself of my basic needs for 15 hours a day, I am learning to appreciate being financially able to support myself and having enough money for food, while also feeling the empathy for those that have no choice about going without. This is creating a desire to give my money to charity. There have been experiments that show poor people having an easier time giving to others, which is probably due to the same reason I am also becoming more inclined to do so. I am learning to detach from my money as I realize how little I actually need to survive, and how much more I have left to give to others.
I probably won’t get wealthy giving away money to charity, but I have a new appreciation for feeling the richness of my life and how much of a positive impact I can have on others simply by letting go of wanting more than getting my basic needs met.
“Be Not Afraid of Going Slowly; Be Afraid Only of Standing Still” ~ Chinese Proverb
Overall, I may be feeling slow and tired compared to my life outside the month of Ramadan, but I’m also increasing my mindfulness in limiting myself to doing what matters most to me. I may feel detached from my body and mind at times throughout the day, but my attachment to Allah (swt) grows as I pray slowly and intentionally to guide me on the straight path and to help me be kinder and gentler despite my dipping blood sugars throughout the day. It is at those times I ask Allah (swt) to give me patience and guide my mind from attaching to worldly pleasures and concerns. Through the tutelage of the many experienced Muslims that I have had the privilege of encountering so far, I am learning a great deal about how Ramadan can enhance my personal development, which only enhances my appreciation for Islam and what it can do for all of humanity. Alhamdulillah, I fall asleep each night so appreciative of all the blessings I have been given.
Archiemedes M. Aquino is a Filipino-American, naturalized American citizen for 36 years, confirmed Catholic at age 22, and converted Muslim at age 44, as of 5/3/17. He grew up in Prince George’s County, Maryland, and came to Arizona in 1995 to study Industrial Design at ASU. Masha’Allah, he found his calling and got a Bachelor of Science degree majoring in psychology instead. He earned his masters of counseling degree from Arizona State University in 2003 and worked 4 years in rural general mental health with all populations, and has been a licensed professional counselor since 2006 in the state of Arizona, with a certification from the National Board of Certified Counselors. He has been working as a counselor for 14 years, specializing in domestic violence issues, with 10 years of experience working with primarily Native American communities. He is familiar with generational trauma, substance abuse and addictions, ADHD, PTSD, and autism spectrum disorders. His preferred modalities for treatment are cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational interviewing, with a humanistic approach.