BBC Radio 2 Pause for Thought 18 July: Ramadan and Discipline

  • I was broadcast on BBC Radio 2’s Pause for Thought Segment on the Vanessa Feltz show. Here’s the text of the broadcast

    It’s the beginning of Ramadan this week, the Islamic month of fasting, where Muslims refrain from bodily intake from dawn to dusk. I’ve hung my timetable on the wall which indicates for each day of the month, the exact minute when morning breaks and when night falls, the minutes which mark the boundaries of the fast.

    In these longer days of the British summer when the day starts as early as 230, and night does not set till well after 9pm, fasting is no mean feat.

    The rigid discipline feels unmanageable – it’s just not normal to refuse all food and water for nearly twenty hours. It’s the morning coffee I miss most, that, and the pleasure of tasting flavours and food.

    But you get used to it surprisingly quickly, usually within a few days, and the discipline yields some surprising results. Your body stops dominating how you structure your day because huge swathes of time are freed up from preparing and consuming breakfast and lunch. Instead of thinking about your body all the time, you can think about you.

    The discipline extends to cutting out gossip and what you come to realise is pointless chatter – admittedly guilty pleasures. Again it’s surprising how much time this frees up for self-reflection and resolutions, and actually getting round to do the things you always meant to do. It’s like new year, but you have a whole month ahead of you with a vast community of nearly two billion people all pulling in the same direction during which to embed your resolutions.

    Almost exactly as Muslims are participating in Ramadan, and all the physical, mental and spiritual focus that requires, the Olympics will be taking place in London. For these athletes, discipline is a way of life, a means towards achieving their dreams. The structure, rigour and absolute commitment towards their goals will reach a culmination during these three weeks.

    Discipline, rules and structure are unfashionable these days, seen as being repressive. But our celebration of events like the Olympics should make us stop and think about the fact that discipline is quite the opposite of constraint: instead discipline releases our potential. Of course upholding discipline in our lives is tough, but if we want to see the potential it can liberate, all we need to do is to watch the incredible achievements of the Olympians over the coming weeks.

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