It’s a wondrous monsoon day in Karachi (Pakistan), a city of over 20 million, growing along the magical coastline of the Arabian sea in Southern Sindh, Pakistan.
We are a nation of extremes. And on days like this, it’s the extreme romantic in me that gets to relish in the madness of this monsoon.
There are areas flooded within 10 minutes from strong rain, and as if the scene has been set for a millennia, children come out and play in the pools of mud and collected rain. There are auto rickshaws (three-wheeled taxis) with friends pushing them along, motorbikes that speed by and the giant jeeps whose awesome frame you only just begin to notice.
And then there is the wind, the rain, the freshly painted green on all the trees and leaves, with a glistening shine of just having been washed by the heavens. It often occurs to me on my many funny rides home across town in strange conditions (like heavy rains, or bomb threats) that living in Karachi one has to completely suspend the framework of “rational” belief.
It just doesn’t make sense how a small car can cross what seems like a deep lake in the middle of road, or how children can dance with such joy when all the garbage of the streets floats by them, and that anything gets done on any day (let alone the days that it rains!) without permanent Divine intervention.
This day, though, is particularly one where the interruption of rain, brings with it a continuation of the theme of this month (Ramzan or Ramadan): breaking habits and being cleansed through the process.
Ramzan is the best of all months for Muslims. For 29 or 30 days Muslims around the world observe fasting from food and beverages, in the outward sense, and fasting from the desires of the lower self, in the inward sense, from sunset to sunrise. The obligatory prayers are always five times a day, and in Ramzan it is also common to observe extra prayers during the nighttime, and to read the Holy Quran as much as one can.
Its meaning is incredibly manifold for every person who intends to experience it. The most pertinent explanation I have been given by a teacher of mine is that Ramzan is a month of breaking habits.
We eat at night and fast in the day; we sleep in the morning (but not a lot since we still have to attend to our duties and responsibilities), and stay up most of the night. There goes your morning tea/coffee, your after lunch cigarette, your morning workout, or even your Saturday night with your friends.
For one month, the focus becomes unquestionably inwards, and in that inward focus, the intent is clear: to submit to the Divine (Allah), to hand over our affair to Him, and to pray for (not just rain!) mercy, forgiveness and freedom from attachment.
All year we do, act and create according to our will, learning perhaps along the way to let go and align our will with that of a higher power. But in Ramzan, we make a very conscious and deliberate intention of releasing our will (breaking this habit is perhaps the most challenging) and then watching how resistance manifests itself in our inner dialogue and mental patterns.
Around the twentieth day, things start to really feel different, almost like you are living in an alternate dimension of reality. If you are lucky, and have connected to a deep part of your unchanging essence, your spirit, the collective energy of this month stretches your efforts to their maximum benefit, and you somehow overcome the tiredness of your body.
Fasting ~ by Maulana Jelaluddin Rumi
There’s hidden sweetness in the stomach’s emptiness.
We are lutes, no more, no less.
If the sound box is stuffed full of anything, no music.
If the brain and belly are burning clean with fasting,
every moment a new song comes out of the fire.
The fog clears, and new energy makes you run up the steps in front of you.
When you fast, good habits gather like friends who want to help.
Fasting is Solomon’s ring.
Don’t give it to some illusion and lose your power,
but even if you have, if you’ve lost all will and control,
they come back when you fast,
like soldiers appearing out of the ground,
pennants flying above them.
A table descends to your tents,
spread with other food,
better than the broth of cabbages.
And the funny thing about all these habits being broken, is that you immediately begin to recognize your peculiarly deep attachment to your breakfast, or your desire to escape on weekends, or to sleep! The list goes on. Because you break your habit, even if for a short period of time, the grip loosens, you put that glass of water down on the table, and you experience a day, a moment even, where your will is subservient.
It chips away at your ego, which shows up while you prepare for Iftar (breaking of the fast), when you snap at your mother, or at the person blocking your lane in traffic, and instead of allowing yourself to go into a self-righteous tirade of anger, a voice comes: “You’re fasting, relax, you cannot give in to your impulses so generously. Watch. Relax. And of course, breathe.”
So one breath at a time, the 30 days seem to vanish into thin air, like these monsoon clouds will on a crisp day-after-the-rain morning. The lessons you learn about yourself, and your habits, some stay and some just return back with an even stronger attachment. Other times, good habits develop, while some difficult ones disappear. You make amends with those you have hurt, and try to give to your loved ones your time and energy.
The impermanence of your created self, your “I”, can easily shine through if you witness that your habits do not define who you are.
It is the last week of Ramzan, and I feel like I have been pegged on a clothesline to dry out from the rigorous laundry of breaking my habits. Dancing in the monsoon rain, praying to let go of all that is not needed any longer, while looking forward to another year, and praying to experience another Ramzan, Insha’Allah (God-willing).
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Apprentice Editor: Jessica Sandhu/Editor: Travis May