x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Diary: to win the battle, try patience and silence

Forgoing food and drink is not the hard part - you get used to it quickly. It's the tempering of selfish desires and quieting of the ego that's the struggle.

Every year humpback whales migrate almost 9,000 kilometres between feeding areas and breeding grounds. They spend between four to six months of this time fasting, surviving on a stored layer of thick fat or blubber through a process called autodigestion, or autolysis. What is amazing is that during this time, the body sheds cells and tissue that are aged, damaged, diseased, weakened or dead. It is nature's cure. The same thing happens to all mammals should they choose to fast, which is why so many abstain from food during sickness. Fasting is actually one of the oldest scientific remedies.

Don't worry, I'm not about to take this to the extreme. (Although I do have some blubber reserves lurking in all the usual places, I don't think they're enough to get me through the winter.) My point is to show that this really is a month of healing. Of course I knew this at the start and I began with a determination to cleanse my mind, body and soul as I fasted. But, as with any activity done over an extended period, momentum is difficult to maintain. Forgoing food and drink is not the hard part - you get used to it quickly.

It's the tempering of selfish desires and quieting of the ego that's the struggle. It is easy to light the fuse of frustration, so tempting to slip into old habits of being judgmental or giving in to whispering temptations. Suddenly and all too quickly, that resolution of keeping the mind and the body pure starts to evaporate. Today is the first day of the second phase of Ramadan. The month is divided into 10-day parts - the first was Rahmat, meaning the mercy of God, and the second is Maghfirat, which translates as forgiveness from God. The third, Nijat, means salvation.

As we are now entering the middle chapter, the time for purification is upon us. It is during these 10 days when we ask for forgiveness from our sins and for the chance to wipe our slates clean. It is vital to have a sharpened resolve. I think the most important part of the battle against ourselves is patience. Nothing worth winning was ever attained overnight. But we don't leave room in our lives for it. Our 21st-century existence demands speed over all things. We feel our blood boil if the computer takes more than a minute to load and we often curse if the traffic light turns red or the person in front of us is taking too long in the queue.

Trying to live our lives at the same speed as the technology surrounding us is bound to be impossible. There is always something better, quicker and more efficient, and in our limited capacity as human beings we find ourselves lagging behind. But I always find it is good to remember that God created us as just that; human beings, not human doings. Our existence is not about how much we can do but how well we can be with ourselves and with other people.

When was the last time you sat and contemplated in silence or thought about the reason for your existence? Perhaps Ramadan is the perfect opportunity to do just that, whether you are Muslim or not. @Email:aseaman@thenational.ae