Ramadan: Practice makes Progress

By the light of this flame
May we come to see the beauty in every person
The wholeness within
The miraculous love we can give
And the connections between us

No matter how you might want to change or grow
No matter what flaws loom large to you.
Begin here. Knowing you are held.  
Knowing you are accepted
Just as you are


Readings

Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama

When our community is in a state of peace, it can share that peace with neighboring communities, and so on. 

When we feel love and kindness towards others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us also to develop inner happiness and peace. 

And there are ways in which we can consciously work to develop feelings of love and kindness. 

For some of us, the most effective way to do so is through religious practice. For others it may be non-religious practices. 

What is important is that we each make a sincere effort to take our responsibility for each other and for the natural environment we live in seriously.

A Zen Story

A dramatic ballad singer studied under a strict teacher who insisted that he rehearse day after day, month after month the same passage from the same song, without being permitted to go any further. Finally, overwhelmed by frustration and despair, the young man ran off to find another profession. One night, stopping at an inn, he stumbled upon a recitation contest. Having nothing to lose, he entered the competition and, of course, sang the one passage that he knew so well. When he had finished, the sponsor of the contest highly praised his performance. Despite the student's embarrassed objections, the sponsor refused to believe that he had just heard a beginner perform. "Tell me," the sponsor said, "who is your instructor? He must be a great master." The student later became a great and renowned performer.

Act Great, by Hafiz

What is the key
To untie the knot of your mind's suffering?

What is the esoteric secret
To slay the crazed one whom each of us did wed
And who can ruin our heart's and eye's exquisite tender landscape?

Hafiz has found
Two emerald words that restored me
That I now cling to as I would sacred
Tresses of my Beloved's hair:
 
Act great.
My dear, always act great.
 
What is the key to untie the knot of the mind's suffering?
Benevolent thought, sound and movement.


Message, by Andy Pakula

What we do changes us. We become what we do.

If we follow the Muslim traditions, we are changed by the practices of Ramadan. If we follow other practices - whether traditional or new, religious or secular, then - for good or for ill - we are changed by these actions.

More giving during Ramadan cultivates generosity. abstaining from food and drink during the day and engaging in the practice of prayer help to cultivate greater appreciation and gratitude. A shared experience of deprivation builds compassion and a sense of community. Joyful family gatherings after sunset each day cultivate greater connection. 

During the month of Ramadan, we invite you to engage in your own observance of Ramadan. 

If you are like most people, there are ways of being that you aspire to. You might want to be more mindful, focused, compassionate, creative, or grateful. You might want to rest more, listen more attentively, or be angry less.

And just like any skill - like playing piano or clarinet - practice makes a difference in cultivating any of these ways of being. 

Aristotle described something we now understand better through neuroscience. He said “We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.” 

What we do can change how we think. We might imagine that the only way to change our actions is to change how we think and feel. But it’s been proven true that the reverse is also true. For example, smiling can make you feel happier, a confident pose can make you feel more confident, and generous acts can make you more generous. 

As Aristotle put it, “We are what we repeatedly do.”

To change for the long-term means that we need to find a way to keep doing something until it becomes automatic and becomes a part of us. It requires that a way of thinking and acting becomes a habit. 

I have noticed that, for myself, there are practices that make me more of the  person I want to be. Exercise helps. It makes me both calmer and more alert. 

Meditation helps a lot. It trains my busy mind to be more focused and less distractible. And I found that a practice from the book “The Artist’s Way” is also very helpful. The author, Julia Cameron, calls it “morning pages” and the idea is simple. Just write for 20 minutes each morning. It doesn’t matter what you write. It can just be whatever comes to mind. This practice gets me to process some of the things swirling around in my mind just below the surface. As an extrovert, I tend not to do that internally. Usually, I need to talk, but it turns out that writing does the job.

Exercise, meditation, and writing. Do I do them? Well, my dog, Rumi, forces me to exercise, so that one is covered. Meditation and writing - sporadically only. I’ve tried again and again for both, and it’s great while I do it, but they’ve never really become habits, and that’s what I need to happen. And that’s why I want to commit to doing these things for the 30 days of Ramadan. 

You may have heard the popular notion that it takes 21 days to form a habit. Unfortunately, it’s nonsense.  A reasonable scientific study showed that the time required various tremendously and the average was about 66 days.

Still, 30 days is a really good start. And if you think you’re particularly good at forming habits, you might be encouraged to know that some of the study subjects formed new habits in as little as 18 days. 

We know that starting a new practice is difficult - it’s easy to skip a day and then think it’s not worth continuing. It’s easy to forget. It’s easy to be unclear about what your goals are. So, we’ve got a plan to make it as easy as possible for us all to choose a practice for 30 days, to do this together, and to support each other as we go. 

Here’s how it works. We have labels with suggested practices on them - lots of choices and there are blank ones so you can create your own if you like. 

And there are cards. What you do is to choose a practice label. You’ll notice that they come in pairs. Take both.Stick one of the two stickers on your card. Fill in the details, like how often you’re committing to practice, and take the card home. Put it on your fridge or your mirror or anywhere you’ll see it every day.

The duplicate sticker is for community and mutual support. Take that sticker, fill in the info and stick it onto this big sheet of paper which we’ll post for the whole 30 days. One of the proven ways to stick with a practice is to let other people know you’re doing it. That’s what the second label and the paper are for. 

I’ll do mine and then invite you to come up when you like and choose your own.

[Community participate in the new habits labels]

When you put your practice or practices on the paper, you can make clusters. That way, it will be easier to see who’s doing the same as you and support each other.

Afterwards: 
Go public
Team up with others doing the same
Check in

Practice does not make perfect, but it does help us progress toward being the people we want to be.

Practice being the person you want to be
Act courageous to become courageous
Do loving actions to become a love
Give often to become generous
Say ‘thank you’ to become generous
Practice does not make perfect
But it does make for progress in your journey of growth
Love where you stand today
And engage in the journey toward your vision
Do this for yourself, for your community, and for the world
Ramadan Mubarak
May it be so