Transforming Habits

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A reflection on Ramadan 2021

Wishing you and your loved ones a happy Eid!

So much of what we are able to achieve or not achieve is the result of our mindset. The mindset during Ramadan is growth, but often we hold a zero-sum attitude towards Ramadan. I used to think that being able to attend all the extra night prayers, spending nights in prayer, and completing a reading of the Quran were the essential ingredients to a successful month.

During a pandemic, those goals changed. I changed.

This was my second Ramadan at home, without work obligations– perhaps in my adult life. I’ve always either started a job around Ramadan, or been employed during Ramadan. I regrettably even returned to work one year after maternity leave during Ramadan. The pandemic has taught me that the next Ramadan is not guaranteed. As much as we might wish to be here, we really have no idea what is in our future. Therefore, my mindset is for immediate transformation and self actualization in 30 days. I choose to transform my daily habits. I choose to be present with my dear friend, Ramadan who only comes once a year for a month at a time.

I had a simple goal: start and maintain spiritually healthy practices.

The behaviors that match that goal vary depending on the day. Toddlers demand so much mind and physical space that I didn’t find myself achieving the consistency I wanted. But whatever I didn’t do one day, I made it a point to do the next day with double the time.

What does spiritually healthy practices mean?

It may be defined differently by women depending on where you are in your life journey but overall it means adopting as many sunnah practices as I possibly can. For me, it means that I don’t sleep after I wake up at 330AM for the Pre-dawn meal, suhur; and use that time for worship. It means that I listen to recitation and dhikr whenever there is empty space. It means I might attend multiple qiyyam programs on an auspicious night. It means that I don’t spend as much time fiddling around in the kitchen or checking my phone or talking on the phone. It means I try to stay away from any stores during an entire month, to limit what I consume both physically and materially.

I began to track the habits instead of the big picture goal alone. I tracked to see if I did the habit each day and how I felt as a result of consistency. I even bought a habit tracking notebook, to count the days I read a juz, or gave charity.

Failures

There were moments when I felt like I was overcome with sleep that I dropped off by kids at their grandparents house (with their Chachu) with the reasoning that a 3:2 adult to children ratio is better than 1:2 ratio at my house. I often felt outnumbered, outwitted, and outmatched by the kids. They would see me getting sleepy, and say, “Mom why don’t you take a nap. Just let us watch!”

Not having 40 hours of outside-the-home-work has been truly liberating. It means that the focus is on attaining as much good as possible. That time is reconfigured to try to do good things, and/or things that are beneficial to others around me.

This was the Ramadan with friends

This Ramadan felt like I spent a lot of time in the company of other people — both at iftaar parties, and virtually in gatherings. It has been marked by this theme of friends. It is strange because last year I did not see a single friend for 2-3 months, and still it felt like I had invested in meaningful relationships but without the need for physical proximity. This year, I have been in many proximal gatherings, made new friends, and engaged in more time with people, and yet the primary relationship with the Creator has not been as intense. I felt a true sense of tawwaqul last year, when I relied on God for all my needs, when my husband was sick and my children were entirely dependent on me as their sole caregiver. During Ramadan last year, I celebrated my daughter’s birthday with an entirely homemade cake and homemade frosting, and candles. This year there was a party before Ramadan, followed with another iftaar party with family with catered food, and sparkly candles. There was no shortage of celebration. There was celebration during a holy month; there were multiple sleepovers and a road trip. This Ramadan, I experienced joy and happiness in these fleeting moments, and I felt an intense sadness too for the losses.

My Kids’ Perspective

I spend a lot more qualitative time with my children when there are no distractions pulling me away from them. The NYTimes has profiled so many of those stories “America’s Mothers are In Crisis” which describes how women seem to be losing their minds working full time and parenting full time with no breaks in between. I have help, and consistently pay my nanny even when I don’t have work because I know she relies on the money to pay her bills, and take care of her family overseas. I feel a sense of obligation towards working in order to help her– which is why applying to jobs and contract jobs has not ended during this time.

Still, my kids say that they had a lot more fun this Ramadan. Maybe it was the weekly playdates at various gardens? Maybe it was the every-other-day at the Lake, to look for our friend the Turtle or the Blue Heron? We tried to spend time in nature every day. Some days they enjoyed way too much Octonauts, or PBS Kids. I let go of my unrealistic expectations of no screen time.

Part of the goal of Ramadan is to bring clarity, focus and peacefulness into my heart. I am not reaching for sweets every time some cries. I am not reaching for the 3rd cup of chai. It is simply about the act of being comfortable with the reality of this moment, without food or drink, that my sustenance comes from the Creator of all things. It is a wonderful reminder. I realized I am capable of more than I thought.

I’d love to hear about your Ramadan. Feel free to share your reflections.

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