Initiation into Ramadan: a Western Wayfarer’s experience of Fasting for the first-time

In the end a person
tires of everything
heart’s desiring
and soul’s journeying.

~ Rumi

la ilaha illa Allah
I am done with everything
except Thee, O Thee!

~ a dervish interpretation of the kalima

Sometimes in my life things happen that have a small and insignificant effect on the way I lead my life, and then suddenly, without any warning, and without any explanation or logical reason, out of the blue, some other things happen to me that seem to have a totally profound effect, and seem to transform me completely: and fasting for the first time this Ramadan has been one of those life changing experiences.

I didn’t have any particularly logical reason or any explanation as to why I should have decided to fast this year, as I didn’t know much about Islam and fasting during Ramadan, in the first place. I had heard though, from friends and colleagues who are Muslim, that Ramadan is a holy time, and a time of prayer, of much more significance than any other time in the Islamic calendar, and some of my friends were describing it with excitement, while others were completely indifferent to it, and looked at it as just one of those things you would normally do and no point in asking any questions about it.

Some friends are practicing Muslims and others are maybe not practicing: I had no way of knowing.

So I didn’t know how to feel about it, nor what to expect from it: and would it be a really blessed experience or would it be just a horrible experience that I wouldn’t want to repeat ever again? The number of questions in my mind were swarming like a nest of bees that’s been disturbed and their work has been suddenly and rudely interrupted. There was no rest, and no peace, and there was no time of day, or night when I didn’t think about it: the day was approaching and as yet I hadn’t decided anything, and I kept hesitating.

But there came a time when I had read these few verses from Rumi’s poem which said:

In the end a person
    tires of everything
                     heart’s desiring
                                 and soul’s journeying.

It was like an epiphany within the heart of my heart.

And I knew there and then that the journey for me, as westerner, has begun. At that moment I realized that my first time of fasting this Ramadan is only the process of being initiated into the practice of prayers and fasting, and that fasting has a very profound, deep philosophical and spiritual meaning, and it was the answer to prayer. Fasting is the answer to prayer to any seeker, of any religion, and any esoteric school of teaching or religion would normally agree with me on this fact.

Little did I realize that beginning to fast would lead to so many changes and so many discoveries: these are and will be discoveries about myself, and getting to know myself that I couldn’t even begin to imagine, let alone experience. At that point in time I already knew about the mystical dimensions of Islam, and I had started reading about the history of the Sufi path, and how and when it appeared. Rumi’s words in his various writings suddenly became so much more clear to me, and so much more meaningful, and I realized that he was not referring to the human lover but more so to the lover as the seeker and the Beloved as God. It couldn’t have been said in any better way, in any more intoxicated words: the seeker and the wayfarer become tired of this world, and of this reality, and seeks further and travel longer distances, both physically and spiritually, to attain knowledge and wisdom that only the enlightened human beings can have a taste of: my journey towards Him, towards the Beloved had begun.

To God belong the East and the West:
Wheresoever you turn, there is the presence of God.
For God is All-Embracing, All-Knowing.
- Q 2:115

A state of Restlessness / Receiving the call (is this the sound of Sweet surrender?)

Know that when you learn to lose yourself, you will reach the Beloved. There is no other secret to be learned, and more than that is not known to me.

~ Ansari, a 11th century Sufi

Do you sometimes have this feeling that you need to take a piece of paper and a pen and write something down, and the desire is so overwhelming that you can’t resist the temptation? If you are travelling, you want the train or the bus to stop, so that your hands wouldn’t shake, and as you pray quietly in your mind, you get all these inspirations and these beautiful pictures begin to unravel in your mind’s eye, and you surrender to them completely.

The Sufi mystics, like Ansari, must have experienced that feeling, and he must have experienced the sense of restlessness (what I would call the sound of sweet surrender) before I started actually fasting. But let me begin with the discovery of the meaning of the word Islam: as we know “Islam” means “surrender”, and also:

Islam literally means "submission (to God)." Muslim, the word for an adherent of Islam, is the active participle of the same verb of which Islām is the infinitive.

So “Surrender”, but surrender to what or surrender to whom??? When the seeker starts to ask himself or herself these questions he/she is on the path of mystic experiences and I think that’s exactly what was happening to me: it was a mystical experience, and one that would be leading to me becoming a practicing Muslim, without even me fully realizing it. My mystical journey home is an inward journey, to the very centre of my being, where the Beloved is eternally present. Or as Sheikh Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee (LVL) would call this moment and this experience this is the moment when “the switch comes on”: and this is what he would say about the switch:

He whom we seek is none other than our own eternal nature. Saint Augustine said: “Return within yourself, for in the inward man dwells Truth”. The mystic experiences that the Beloved dwells within the mystic’s heart, not as a concept but as a living reality. In the depths of the heart there is no separation between the lover and the Beloved. (The Transformation of the Heart, LVL).

My heart had started listening to the sweet sound of surrender, the divine music of love and fasting has helped me to understand that simple truth. It was its simplicity that struck me most: we, western wayfarers, tend to intellectualize everything that we do and everything that we get involved in: we have forgotten how to surrender, and we have passed beyond the time when we can meditate and silently pray, without any pomp, without any formal expressions, without the scented candles, and deep inside the chamber of our hearts, where the Beloved dwells and where He is waiting for us. The mystical journey leads us away from the ego towards the self, from separation back to union. LVL says that this is when the following happens:

Turning away from the ego, and turning back to God, we are led deep within ourself, to the innermost centre of our being, what the Sufis term “the heart of hearts”. This is an individual journey of the seeker back to the source, of the alone to the Alone. Yet there are stages on this journey, “valleys of the quest”, through which each traveler passes. (The Transformation of the Heart, LVL).

Fasting during Ramadan has helped me to understand what the Sheikh means by that description: we need to abandon thinking about our ego, about our individual lives and our everyday daily routine and start to experience hunger, and thirst, and discomfort, and only then we can pray and surrender to Him like we properly mean it:

We don’t fast because we have to and because it is the tradition to fast during Ramadan: those would be the wrong reasons to fast, and the wrong motivations: we don’t fast because we would like to lose weight, or because our skin and our complexion would improve as a result of a good or better diet, and these reasons are all the wrong reasons: it’s the intention to fast and to sit in front of your simple meal at the end of a long day of no food and no drink, and silently remember Him, and connect with the Beloved, and thank Him for his provision, and for His grace, and then closing your eyes becoming one with the Beloved. Remember Him.

And that’s the main realization for me during this fasting for the first time at Ramadan. I still don’t know if I am doing fasting correctly or not, and I still struggle with getting up at 3.30 in the morning when my heart is still asleep and wants to take me back to bed and wants me to stay there for a couple of hours till I am fully rested: breaking the sleeping patterns I have always had was really difficult, and left me drained and lacking energy towards the second half of the day. The first few days I was very tired, and irritable, and had migraines that made me lose my temper very quickly, and I had to keep saying to myself to be patient as we know “patience is a virtue” and man doesn’t live by bread alone. Or as the Bible says (King’s James version), Gospel of Matthew 4:4, New Testament:

“But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God”.

And according to a cross-reference from Deuteronomy 8:3, Kings James version of the Bible :

"He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD”.

What Jesus is referring to here is also surrender, sweet and lovely surrender to God, and not to live by bread alone, but to live by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God, and that’s by praying and in our prayers remembering the Beloved with every breath that we take.

A practice of remembrance and prayer: a remembrance of the Heart

So remember the Name of you Lord 
and devote yourself to Hu with a whole-hearted devotion.
Lord of the East and the West; 

God alone is God; so take Hu as your Guardian (Wakil).
- Q: 8-9

Fasting will hopefully become easier when I am fasting again next time, and now that the journey has begun I have so many more and new experiences to look forward to, and so many more and new ways to saying prayer. There are stages on this journey and I don’t expect these stages to be easy or always pleasant and enjoyable. Blessing for those like me who are fasting for the first time, and may their journeys be blessed and fantastic. If the fasting is hard for you, have patience and increase your endurance. Persist in the practice and things will start to get easier for you, and may it be an experience that you will never forget.

The Sufi masters have provided us with a map describing these stages on the path, and also the difficulties and dangers of the path. Sheikh Lee says about this:

Having reached the goal, they are able to help other wayfarers by recording what may be expected along the way. Sufism also provides certain techniques to open us to the inner world and keep our attention focused on our invisible goal. Foremost among these is the practice of Remembrance, for the Sufi aspires to remember God in every moment, with each and every breath. This is not a mental remembrance, but a remembrance of the heart, for it is the heart which holds the higher consciousness of the Self. (Transformation of the Heart, LVL).

Be blessed and stay in remembrance of the Beloved. So be it! Amen.

Baba Aziz, let him come to the gathering with us!

     He's already with us, little angel.

But he's no dervish, Baba Aziz.

     Who knows... Everyone in this great world has a task to fulfill.
     The rest is not so important, as long as you don't forget that.
     But if you remember everything except that,
     it's as if you didn't know anything.

- from the Movie Bab 'Aziz

"There are as many paths to God as there are souls on Earth."
     - Saying of the Prophet

 - Guest Post by Helena Vygotsky

Helena is originally from Bulgaria, and she is part Bulgarian and part Greek. She presently resides in England and has been an avid reader and student of mysticism and esoteric aspects of world religions. She was originally interested in the history and the teachings of the Cathars, a Gnostic group of Christians who traveled through Bulgaria and Italy into France and Spain where the movement  became known as Catharism (13th century) and their  present day followers as well as the Hermetic philosophy which originally came from Greece and Egypt: the earth based traditions in Western Europe and the Hermetic Mysteries are inextricably linked in the evolution of human consciousness. Through the invisible golden thread of her seeking she was led into the beauty and mystery of the Sufi Path, and she has discovered how Sufis are so very similar to the early followers of Christ (these seekers interestingly were not called 'Christians' but were nameless lovers, like the Sufis).

This is her first year of fasting and she has been very kind to share her experience with us, may the Beloved be pleased with her and invite her among those who are blissfully guided.

# References:
. King’s James version of the Bible
. Wikipedia. On definition and translation of Islam
. Sufism, the Transformation of the Heart, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, (2002) Golden Sufi Centre

# Elsewhere:
. Observing Ramadan as a Month of Universal Spirituality
. Ramadan and Fasting in America
. My 30 Fasts: A Non-Muslim's Ramadan Experience
. Experience of Aaron's Fasting from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
  Ramadan Week One | Week Two | Week Three
. Fast Friends



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Technology of the Heart: Initiation into Ramadan: a Western Wayfarer’s experience of Fasting for the first-time
Initiation into Ramadan: a Western Wayfarer’s experience of Fasting for the first-time
Technology of the Heart
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