As Ramadan draws closer, several reminders can come to our minds. No, not slower or shorter days at work, or less traffic before sunset or even extended mall hours – although these are all great perks!
What comes to mind for many, when Ramadan approaches, is heavily linked with what is also practised in therapy. Many Muslims see Ramadan as a time of spiritual and personal reflection, a time for healing and forgiveness, for compassion and giving, a time for acceptance.
In addition, Ramadan encourages us to be more self-aware, as it is also a time for mindfulness in daily life; mindful talking, mindful action, mindful eating and mindful attention. When we are more aware of our thoughts, our feelings and our behaviour, we are less emotionally reactive to others and situations, we are calmer and act with more purpose and intent rather than on autopilot or mindlessly.
Giving one specific explanation of mindfulness is challenging, as it is often based on a person’s subjective experience. However, Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” So, mindfulness is paying close attention to the present moment with intent, free from the anxiety and stresses of the future and released from the sadness and regrets of the past. Since many mental and emotional problems and stresses come from overthinking about past experiences or future worries, mindfulness could prove to be a valuable practice for everyone!
Mindfulness also encourages us to practice non-judgement. This similarly is preached in Islam in relations with others. Certain verses in the Quran refer to negative judgements, assumptions or backbiting – talking negatively about others – as a sin. Several other verses in the Quran and the Hadith dictate a similar mindset of non-judgement towards others. Mindfulness particularly focuses on awareness and non-judgement of one’s own thoughts and feelings and of others’ subjective experience.
Mindful breathing is also an integral part of mindfulness practice and meditation. Muslim prayer, performed five times a day, is similar to mindfulness meditation, by bringing awareness to the present moment with intent and focus. In fact, you can do everything mindfully by bringing your awareness to daily routine activities, like household chores, getting dressed, eating, driving or whatever else you do during the day. Being in the present moment not only helps you focus better but also helps you avoid unnecessary stress and worry while noticing more details around you. Next time you are stressed or are over thinking, try the following:
• Become aware, let go of those negative thoughts without judgement
• Mindfully breathe; bring your attention to deliberate breaths by meditation or yoga
• Focus on the present; this will help you recognise and experience more pleasant moments of joy and happiness
• Practise gratitude by noting or writing down three things you were grateful for that day
• Take 10 minutes daily to do nothing, just be present – in the here and now
• Observe what is going on around you, with curiosity (for example, people watching).
So, this Ramadan, when you are gathered around the Iftar table, when you are eating, visiting family and friends or performing your daily prayers or rituals, try to be more mindful and reap the many benefits.
Wishing you a mindful Ramadan!
Resha Erheim is a mental health counsellor. She is a Canadian Certified Counsellor and a member of the Canadian Counsellor and Psychotherapy Association. Having worked in Canada, Kuwait and Dubai, she brings with her extensive multicultural experience in clinical and educational settings.