Before I start, just a quick ‘thank you’ to Moi for reminding me that I even intended to share my Ramadan experience/lessons on here. Like you said, God sometimes speaks through people :)
Okay, back to the scheduled program. Days two through five of Ramadan have been filled with so many lessons, I’m surprised I even have the energy to write this post. Unlike Day one which was essentially a physical test of my adaptation to the Senegalese sun and long hours, these three days have been a revolving door of churning out my thoughts and feelings. I keep going back and forth on this same issue, but this time it’s a bit different.
Actually, let me speak plainly. That was lesson number one: Say what you need to say. Speak your truth. Not THE truth, mind you. But YOUR truth. Most situations involve many truths. Hence speak YOUR truth. And allow others to speak their respective truths as well. I don’t want to believe that God made life out to be this complicated, it’s our unspoken and half-said truths that make things so difficult.
So yeah, as I mentioned in my first post on Ramadan, this month represents peace for me. Here comes lesson two: It is not guaranteed that it (Ramadan or any other venture you might undertake) will be all that you expect it to be. What you put in is what you get out of it. Sure, maybe there are more blessings floating around because that’s just how holy Ramadan is, but you’ve got to actively work for the rest. That means focusing on your objectives for Ramadan. In the past I have had one, two or three very specific things that I would pray/fast about for Ramadan. This year, I thought I had a pretty good list, and then life threw me a curve ball (it always delivers right on time, doesn’t it?), and guess what? I lost focus, I panicked. Needless to say, I wasn’t feeling too peaceful after that.
And along rolls lesson number three: Trust in God cannot be selective. If you really trust God like you claim to (and boy, have I made so many of those claims), then it should be complete. Why was I panicking? Because something came along that I didn’t expect, most certainly didn’t like, and didn’t trust God to handle it. The realization that I tend to choose when and in what I will trust God, hit me. So now I ask, does half trust/half faith still constitute trust/faith? I’d like to think God is merciful enough to ignore all those halves, while guiding me towards the fullness of my belief and trust in Him.
Anyway, where was I? Yes, I panicked. And when I panicked, I lost focus and suddenly, the peaceful beach with palm trees and saline water gently lapping at the shore became a scary possibility that I would lose my footing on the summit of this volcano that appeared from nowhere and fall head-first into the burning molten lava below. Out went the peace with the panic, and once that delicate balance was disturbed, in rushed the adrenaline and its fight or flight tendencies. It’s usually one or the other, in my case it was both. Talk about emotionally draining.
Now here’s a key difference between this Ramadan and past ones, and also, in general. In addition to observing the month of Ramadan I’ve always had my support systems – family, friends, books, writing, prayer, etc – in place to help secure that peace. If anything were amiss, I would turn to one, some or all of those. Despite what some people think – and I always find it amusing when people come up to me and tell me “You always keep it together. Nothing seems to faze you.” – I am pretty sensitive. I think everyone is affected by things going amiss in their lives. Some of us are just better at hiding or dealing with it than others. I tend to be more private, but that doesn’t mean I’m any less affected. So yeah, I just needed to put that out there.
Here I was, with a meddlesome issue disrupting my ‘peace’, and guess what? I didn’t have half the tools I normally have. The friends I would confide in are not just far away, but hours away too. Include the costs involved if I were to pick up the phone and call, and you can understand why the option was unavailable. Sure there’s gchat and skype and all that, but honestly, can any of those really substitute for having a friend talk to you on the phone or in person? Tool number two is my self-help books. Yes, you read right, self-help books. No, they don’t have “self-help” written in bold on the cover, but that’s what they do for me. Give me inspiration, help me sort out my feelings and thoughts, and give me some equilibrium. All those books- with the exception of “Eat, Pray, Love” which I borrowed from my dear soul sis (Shout outs ‘Seina! ;) ) and happen to have with me – are in a plastic container in Accra. My Qu’ran, which I bought last Ramadan, is in that same container. Good thing I was able to download a Qu’ran software online. The only two tools I really have right now are writing (and no, you won’t find those write-ups on here lol. Like I said, I deal with these things privately) and prayer. So, I cannot distract myself from any of this stuff. I have to face them headon.
Now you know it’s never easy where human beings are concerned. I resisted, I fought, I went back and forth, I’m sure I’ve driven my flat mate crazy by now (Shout outs ‘K!), I know I’ve driven the people involved half-mad, I rationalized (If there’s one thing I’m great at, it’s analyzing and rationalizing. They used to call me “Analyzer” in high school, LOL), all of that. And then, after all this roundabout stuff, I finally prayed. I prayed and I prayed some more. And at one point, when I didn’t have the energy to actually stand on a shajadda (prayer mat) and pray, a voice told me, ‘Go ahead and say what’s in your heart. That too is prayer.’ So I talked to God/myself in my head – this wasn’t rationalizing, it was stating the facts – and when I was done, that same voice said ‘Go get the Qu’ran and read.’ When you’re awake in the middle of the night or early morning and you start hearing voices in your head, you tend to listen to them. So that’s what I did.
Which brings me to lesson four: God speaks to us all the time. Most times we just hear and then go right ahead and ignore. When we listen however, we’ll find it’s exactly what we needed. And lesson 5: After all is said and done, you will have to face the hard facts and present your case to God. Save yourself the time and energy and just go straight to Him. I opened up the Quran software – which, I must say, I totally love. It has a clean interface and the translation is great! – and somehow found myself to the bookmarked page, only to find that the software came with default bookmarks. What were the three categories?
– The Compassionate
– Trust in Allah
– Miscellaneous Ayahs (found out recently “ayah’ literally means “miracles” and refers to the Qu’ranic verses)
Long story short, I read all those bookmarked verses and they were basically telling me “Don’t worry. Allah is Compassionate. Trust in Allah to forgive your shortcomings and do what is best for you. Allah is sufficient for you and the best one to trust.”
That last sentence “Hasbunallahu Wa Ni Mal Wakeel,” or “Allah is enough/sufficient for me” was something my dad sent to me about a year ago, and I’d been tryna remember it, but couldn’t. And here it popped right up at me at the moment I needed it the most.
[I’m continuing this post 3 days later since I started telling myself this is waaaaay too private to put on here, and I’d be making myself vulnerable. But hey, this is how I deal with stuff and of what worth is life if we don’t give of ourselves? Hopefully, it will go beyond being therapeutic to me and help someone else too.]
So, where was I? Oh yes, “Allah is enough/sufficient for me.” In that moment, those words were what I needed and they helped a ton. But it was by no means the end. I went through the whole cycle of wondering, doubting, asking, crying, all that. But this time, I had a quiet voice reassure me that “Allah is enough for me.” Which brings me to the next lesson: Live in the Present. Enjoy the memories of the past and revel in the hopes for the future, but never substitute either for the present. How many times have we heard that? I’ve always wondered – how exactly do you live in the present when your mind is like an excited child always running around, skipping from past to present to future, trying to figure one thing or the other out? I’m still wondering on that one, but I think I have a better sense of it. Yesterday was a good day. It’s interesting to note that in the midst of all this emotional turmoil raging within, I had moments of undeniable happiness and laughter. I was quite surprised. I also got to sleep which is a HUGE thing for me. I never sleep when I’m in disharmony or disequilibrium (if something’s bothering me). So, already, I can tell that God’s answering the prayers I said within bouts of tears. And yes, miracles are still happening. Now, for the final and most poignant realization (so far): True Peace is not the absence of turmoil. It is the silence in the midst of cacophony, the security amid danger, the knowledge that God exists.
Anyway, I’m still hoping, still praying, still thankful and still living. I think at some point between Day 2 and Day 8, I resolved that this situation wouldn’t rob me of the opportunity to commune with God. So here I am, searching again for the peace that I’ve always known during Ramadan, and trying to really trust Allah and have faith in His knowledge of what is unknown to me. Alors, I guess this is a long enough post and I definitely feel like my thoughts and feelings are under a microscope. It’s weird, lol. But hey, it’s done. Also, check out the Nasheed (Islamic song) ‘Allah Knows’ by Zain Bikha (heavenly voice!). Juma Mubarak to my Muslim peeps and have a lovely weekend to everyone else!