“We have happy days,
remember good dinners.”
Dinner on the table.
These are all moments of each day that are engrained in us like clockwork. At first I thought that perhaps one of the biggest time-related challenges in moving to Tangier would be changing my dinner time from 6ish to 9ish, but little did I know what Ramadan had in store for me.
The most immediate realization I had during my first Ramadan, and each year to come, for that matter, was how much energy and time is spent thinking about, preparing, scheduling and eating meals. Ramadan completely shakes up these habits by simply eliminating them all together. I felt like I suddenly had so many more hours in each day without the added subconscious pressure of what to eat and when. Sure, there is still the preparation of the ftour (breakfast) to think about, but it does not dictate the day in the same way as eating regular meals in our own (usually) mindless rhythms. What happened with this realization is that two seemingly opposing statements became true in my mind: that food is both deeply important and absolutely not important at all.
Let me explain.
We know that food is important. It is our nourishment, our fuel, our pleasure and our life source. As a dancer, I would never be able to work with my body if it weren’t for constantly feeding it at regular hours and with real, good ingredients. However, food is naturally good for us and theoretically, our bodies should naturally tell us what we need to consume and when. Instead, we have a culture of weighing, timing, scheduling and counting. The more focus we put on the act of eating food, the more disconnected we become from what it is actually doing for us on a deeper level. Author Adam Gopnik wrote a bit about this phenomenon when he said “Betrayed by its enlargement, food becomes less intimate the more intensely it is made to matter” (via Brainpickings).
Food itself begins to lose that intimate importance as soon as it becomes something to control. Like the majority of women I know, I have struggled off and on with obsessing over food and dealing with that unsurmountable guilt of eating certain things at certain times. Ramadan has made me see even more clearly that in trying to control food, food actually started controlling me and how I structured each day. I go to bed envisioning what to have for breakfast and if we had food on hand to make a quick lunch, then while eating my breakfast I would already be thinking about what to make for dinner and who will make it and if we need to get extra ingredients from the corner store, etc. Obviously not everyone has the same slightly obsessive thought process as myself, but we all have our patterns concerning food in our daily timelines.
During the month of Ramadan, when my habits are shattered and I allow my schedule to be dictated by the natural rising and falling of the sun, I find myself enjoying the pleasure of eating on a whole other spiritual level. Probably the combination of being willingly deprived for a full 16 hours along with the lack of worry and stress throughout the day about planning and executing each meal is what allows me to sit back and let go of that intense, enlarged focus that Gopnik mentions. I can appreciate each bite to its fullest for simply what it is- pure bodily nourishment.
I have always had this image of spirituality in general as something that involves zooming out- seeing the bigger picture as a whole and taking away the intensive detail-oriented focus. Spirituality encapsulates and connects everything and not only does it involve shying away from material concerns, but also a complete deconstruction of linear time. I would argue that food and time, for most people, are constantly intertwined. Isn't that what all of these patterns are all about?
I was listening to yet another beautiful episode of the On Being Podcast the other day where Krista Tippett interviewed the Franciscan spiritual teacher Richard Rohr, talking specifically about the existence of two different kinds of time. He said:
“…in Greek, in the New Testament, there’s two words for time. Chronos is chronological time, time as duration, one moment after another, and that’s what most of us think of as time. But there was another word in Greek, kairos. And kairos was deep time. It was when you have those moments where you say, “Oh my god, this is it. I get it,” or, “This is as perfect as it can be,” … things like that where time comes to a fullness, and the dots connect, when we can learn how to more easily go back to those kind of moments or to live in that kind of space.”
It came to me, as I was listening, that Ramadan is a special piece of the year that lets us live for a moment in that valley of kairos, deep time, or at least get a little flavor of it. We are not ruled by the ticking clock but by cycles, repetitive and natural instead of linear and forward-throttling. At sunset we eat, at sunrise we stop and the cycle repeats itself, leaving broad space for connecting the dots in between. It is a time of peaceful contemplation and breaking our habitual, mindless patterns. As Rohr says about the contemplative mind,
“It’s a different form of consciousness. It’s a different form of time.”
This is Ramadan. This is what happens when we consciously break our patterns of eating, scheduling and planning. This is the kind of time and space I would like to inhabit and nourish myself with more often.
“He sends down water from the sky. From it you drink, and from it come the shrubs among which you graze your herds. By it He makes crops grow for you, as well as olives and dates and grapes and fruit of every kind.
There is certainly a sign in that for people who reflect.”
-Qur’an, Surah An-Nahl: 10-11