These are strange times. And in the midst of all this chaos, as we all do our best to stay home, we have a strange question for you:
How many of us have kept up our New Year’s resolutions made in January?
Nobody would have guessed back in January of this year that in a few weeks, we would all be in isolation to protect against a worldwide pandemic. Now we’re all socially distancing ourselves, keeping a close watch on our loved ones and trying to protect against a disease we don’t fully understand yet.
Everyday brings news of more changes to the things we took for granted. From sports being cancelled, to offices working completely online, to schools being closed, to restaurants being limited to takeout only, these measures are changing our realities.
Every year, we go through the motions of setting resolutions for self-improvement. Most of us have those fall away within the first few months because we never have “enough time”. Now we unexpectedly have so much time on our hands. Now we suddenly don’t have to rush to work in the morning. Now we have less to occupy us in the evening as eating out, sport matches and shopping are all out of the question.
Now we are face to face with ourselves. Without the crutches of external distractions, who are we? How do we spend our time? Perhaps, in a world that was exceedingly defining our self-worth by who we are in public, this is a reminder to work just as hard on who we are in private.
Maybe this is a time to brush off the dust on old ideas, and revisit those self-improvements we wanted in our new year’s resolutions. And maybe we can also use this time to strengthen our spirituality before Ramadan as we all stay home.
So many of us look forward to Ramadan as a time to recharge and connect. All year, we eagerly await its benefits and blessings. We seek the family iftars, the community prayers and the opportunities to do better – to be better.
But as we all come to the realization that Ramadan may be very different this year if we continue to stay home, the timing of our current situation should not be lost on us – and the hidden opportunity it brings. The challenge will be to develop new routines to achieve our goals during that special month. And this year, without our usual routines to distract us, that work can start right now.
A little bit each day can bring you that much closer to welcoming Ramadan this year with ease and excitement, instead of sadness and anxiety. These moments of inner work to strengthen spirituality that we focus on now, will bear fruit at the time we need it most.
Here are some areas where you can start your inner work during this time:
Make Use of the Extra Time at Home in the Morning and Evening
Now that we no longer have tiring commutes that take away hours from our day, this is a great time to create a morning and evening routine that is not rushed. Lay down healthy habits that you can easily transition to a suhoor and iftar routine, which will help you have a more blessed Ramadan.
1. Create a Morning Routine That Is Not Rushed
Now is not the time to start sleeping in until you have to log on for work. Even as you stay home, still get up early and have a nice, healthy breakfast. See if you can work on some personal projects if you have extra time (like those morning stretches you always wanted to try). Ideally, work should not be the start of your day, but rather a part of your morning. And little by little, you can start moving that time earlier and earlier.
2. Make a Habit of Reciting Your Morning Duas
Maybe you can’t visit your co-workers for a morning coffee break. What you can do is reconnect with your spirituality in that time. Set a time to step away from your desk every morning for 15 minutes and send salawat on the Prophet, recite duas that will help you perform better, and maybe even do some dhikr. This can help center and calm you in the absence of your usual stress relieving outlets. And it will be a habit you can keep throughout Ramadan, and when everything is hopefully back to normal.
3. Establish a Bedtime Routine to Help You Wind Down
You’ve already been on your computer all day. And most likely had more screen time with Netflix and the news in the evening. So see where you can implement some “sleep hygiene” before bed (look up that phrase for more ideas). Turn off the screens and read a book. Connect with the family. Maybe work on that art project you’ve had lying around for years now. This helps you grow your inner focus, which will help during Ramadan for nightly worship.
Set Aside Time Every Day for Projects – Both Personal and Spiritual
Again, with the extra time on our hands, you can use this as a chance to work on your “if I only had the time” projects. Always wanted to pick up a new hobby? Now’s the chance. Start a strangely specific meme account on social media? Here’s your opportunity. Be better prepared for Ramadan by memorizing more Quran? Here’s divine intervention to help you do just that while you stay home..
4. Spend Time On Your Prayers
We’ve all complained about our lack of khushu’ (focus) in prayers, and how often we’ve had to rush through them. Now’s your chance to take your time while you stay home. Start by doing wudu with deliberation. Make your intention with all your heart. And then afterwards, take your time with your duas and dhikr. Really make it a point of reconnection with your Lord.
5. Create a Plan and Stick To It
Set aside when you’re going to work on your “thing” every day, and block that time off in your calendar. Tell your family you can’t be disturbed during that period, and turn off all distractions like your phone notifications. Really dedicate yourself to this. Similarly, be specific about what you’re going to work on in that time as well. “I’m going to learn more Quran” is not helpful. Decide ahead of time which surahs, and on what days. That way, when the time comes, you just have to follow your own plan.
6. Don’t Try to Do Too Many Changes at Once
It’s so easy for us to be over ambitious and try to change everything at once. That is a sure road to a painful failure – and that’s the truth. Motivation is a limited resource within our psyches. The more we use it, the less we have. So if you start too many things at once (i.e. pick up a new skill AND memorize the Quran AND start a new business), one or more of these things will not happen and you will definitely be more likely to give up on all of them. So set small attainable goals – and celebrate those wins.
Find Ways to Maintain the Bonds of Community While We Stay Home
Especially in difficult times, we find comfort and belonging when we are together. And although the circumstances are quite unusual, it’s important to not let the stress of what’s going on create even more separation and distance between us. In fact social isolation can worsen pre-existing mental health and medical conditions during public crises. So here are some ideas for how we can still establish those bonds of community, and be there for each other.
7. Make Dinner Together
Food is the universal language that we all share. Having dinner together every day gives a chance for everyone to connect and relax at the end of the day. To make it easy, set a time and let everyone know when to expect to come together. And make it a group effort! Ask each person at home to do one aspect of dinner prep, whether it’s cooking, setting the table, reheating leftovers, or making a salad. With everyone’s schedules suddenly aligned, it’s a great way to build a routine that will bring a sense of normalcy when Ramadan is here.
8. Establish Prayers as a Family Affair
Praying together with your family, spouse or roommate, is a way to instil the comfort and serenity that is felt when we come together. Not only is it a praiseworthy act to gain increased reward and forgiveness, but it is also a means for us to bring calm and manage our anxiety in these tough times. These daily moments of prayer together will be the ones we treasure most during Ramadan. And even if you live alone, tune into online programs that help foster that sense of community and recharge your spirituality.
9. Choose an Easy Family Activity Like a Walk
Staying active together, laughing together and being out in nature are all ways to put you in a positive mindset and allow you to focus on the right things. Something as simple as a daily walk with your family, while keeping safe, can be just the right thing to bring some sunshine into your day and strengthen your connection to each other. The stronger your positive connections are, the better your wellbeing will be overall.
10. Choose Mercy, Compassion and Charity
And lastly, this is a time to practice kindness, generosity and care. As a human family, this pandemic is teaching us to work together to ensure everyone’s health, safety and dignity. It is a reminder that our response to each other must be like one body – if one limb aches, the whole body reacts with wakefulness towards it. As we see so clearly the blessings we take for granted and privilege we enjoy, now is our chance to share these blessings with those in need.
We hope this list helps you feel empowered to turn inwards and make choices that strengthen you towards your goals. A day without the distractions and routines we are so used to, is a chance to prioritize our own spirituality and self-development. By making these conscious choices, we can also prepare ourselves in advance for the most blessed time of the year and truly become ‘Ramadan Ready’.