It is one of my goals this year to participate in at least six structured Islamic courses. Ambitious as I am, I signed up for two Seekers Guidance courses. One of them is on parenting, and another one the very much needed spirituality lessons – Purification of the Heart.
I tried to discipline myself into spending an hour a week for this – but it doesn’t work. Until last week, when I felt so low I know I must start being serious about this – cleansing my heart from all the filth it has collected along the way.
For the time being, I am trying to focus on one course first – the Purification of the Heart & Praiseworthy Character (from Ghazali’s 40 Foundations of Religion). It has 12 lessons, and I am currently on the second one. Yes, pretty slow, but I am trying to digest and discuss with my husband as much as I can about what I learnt.
And the first lesson, on the first blameworthy trait, the first disease of the heart I need to purify is Gluttony.
Excessive food consumption.
Let me tell you how this lesson has affected me, one who is definitely guilty of this.
Even after listening the first part of the lesson, I was struck.
Being a mother, and consequently reading about hundreds and hundreds of articles advocating for natural, organic, and healthy foods, I am aware that I need to provide myself and my family we fresh food, not processed food. As natural as I could, perhaps organic if I am able to find them. Three proper meals a day, with healthy snacking in between. Loads of water. Need to have healthy portions of carbohydrates, protein, fruits and veggies.
I understand those, and tried to practise whenever I can. And being a woman, I take pride on preparing home-cooked meals, maybe elaborated traditional Malay delicacies at times.
Even with all that, I know I am on the wrong path. My ‘worldview’ on food has been skewed bits by bits without me knowing.
Eat to Live, not Live to Eat
I have heard of this mantra and tried to live according to it for a while. Being married to a simple man enforces that too, but now I am beginning to think that my ‘I am worth it’, ‘Food are little pleasures God created for us to enjoy once in a while’ excuses might have corrupted him in that sense.
For a start, though we are not frequent visitors of high-end restaurants I do think that a once in a while indulgence is nearly a must. Most of the times my husband does not agree with this notion but he follows anyway…
It could also be a peer-pressure thing, but I take pride on preparing complete, proper meals for my family. By complete, it means the standard Malaysian staple – rice, one protein/seafood-based dish and one vegetable-based dish. Even this is simple according to my parents’ standard (who will have TWO protein/seafood-based dishes in one seating). Probably it is how I have been brought up too. My husband told me the reason he could not help but feeling sleepy all the time whenever we visit and stay with my parents is that he would be ‘forced’ to eat like six heavy meals per day! I know that is how my parents show their love, but, pheww.. six meals could be too much.
Even with that relatively simple meals I prepare (not everyday though) for my husband, he still thinks it is too much, and that it could be much simpler, or of a smaller portions (because he tends to finish whatever that’s left).
Then I realised that:
1. I am sticking to a standard which comes from nowhere that it is better to have more food than not enough food. My husband thinks otherwise. He can make do with whatever that he has.
2. I hold on to a belief that a good housewife should be able to prepare a complete meal, tasty and elaborate at that too. My husband wants it simple.
3. I should not watch Masterchef. Or Asian Food Channel for that matter. It just turns the thing of ‘Eat to Live’ upside down. Look at how they describe food. Look how crazy we are about food, that there are numerous TV channels dedicated to this sport – eating.
And all of these are a stark contrast to what the Prophet and his beloved, rightly-guided Companions practised:
The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said to A’isha (his wife): “Be persistent in the knocking of the door to Paradise for it to be opened for you.” She asked, “How do we persist?” He replied, “Through doing without food and water.”
“The son of Adam does not fill any vessel worse than his stomach. It is sufficient for the son of Adam to eat a few morsels to keep him alive. If he must fill it, then one-third for his food, one-third for his drink, and one-third for air.”
I am always very bad at avoiding food. The one-month Ramadhan fasting is not hard, but the non-compulsory fasting on other months is difficult for me. Muslims are encouraged to fast every Monday and Thursday, and on 13th, 14th and 15th of each lunar month. It means that for instance, in the month of April 2014, I will fast for 10 days if I were to follow the recommendations.
I always come up with reasons not to do the voluntary fasting – oh, we are having a meeting today and they serve good food, I am on an out-of-office assignment today it’s going to be tiring driving I need to drink – and the list of excuses goes on.
I know this must stop. I don’t need as much food as I thought, maybe I have been brainwashed into thinking that, for instance I need to eat three times a day (well, the Prophet and his companions lived and fought well in rigorous physical battles without eating that frequent). I don’t need that much, and I should teach
And fasting has a lot of benefits. For my body physically, and my soul.
And so I am fasting today – in the hope to grab all the benefits it offers. The best kind of fast is the Fast of Prophet Dawud (peace be upon him) – who fasted alternate days. I am not sure how long it would take before I could make such practice a habit, but that should be my aim, no?
The Myth of Food Pyramid?
The shaykh in the lecture I listened to touch about this topic albeit briefly, but it made me think.
He mentioned about a tribe of people If the food pyramid that I have come to know for so long is correct, and the healthiest, is not God being unjust to those who live in isolated areas, where certain types of food are not available, but ‘necessary’ to their health?
“Till today, some of the most healthiest (sic) people on this earth which are coming from highlander Chinese nearby Mongolia,their entire diet is actually based on goat, sheep meat and their fats. That’s it. Once in a while (in a couple of years) only can they have access to bread, because but they are among healthiest of people.”
I guess how much you eat (excessively or not) is more important that what you eat? I have read articles claiming that these food pyramids are influenced by business. From where I work i.e. in food and agriculture industry, I know this is a possibility I can’t just dismiss.
Science is science. It is evidence-backed, but it is never absolute. Experiments have limitations.
Getting Old, Getting Slow
Alhamdulillah, I have always known that I am blessed to never been classified as fat even when I was younger. I know my tummy is not flat, but I have never been insecure about my body.
But pregnancy did change me. Everything stats go haywire after that – my normal blood pressure becomes consistently lower now, I suffered from iron-deficiency (hence the hair loss), my teeth are not healthiest anymore, I get tired faster, and worst of all, I have just realised that my metabolic rate has slowed down that now I am the heaviest I could be in my whole life – I am as heavy as when I was 5 months pregnant!
It was indeed a wake-up call. I want to be healthy. I have a lot I want to do and contribute, and a healthy body is a prerequisite.
And yes, all sickness comes from what you eat. I have been in such a comfort zone that I basically just eat. Everything.
Acting upon What I Have Learned
The topic has changed me, almost immediately. Unfortunately, I was in Krabi a few days after I started practising whatever I have learnt, and it was challenging. Half of vacation is about food, aren’t we told so? After a week, I went back to the old habit – but these days I miss the sweetness of not being burdened by hunger a lot I am really going to attempt that again.
The truth was hunger doesn’t control me during those times, and I love that. I got comfortable with the level of ‘hunger’ cum ‘not fullness’ – the feeling of lightness, you know, not the kind of sluggish we feel after we eat a huge meal.
And being the lady of the house means I am on the driving seat when it comes to what to feed the family. Junk food is rarely available in my house, I only bake once in a blue moon, and my husband prefers steamed food or soup, even my son has the same taste (he loves soup) – so really, it comes down to my own effort to slow down on fried or fatty food (which is difficult because Malay food are basically fried, or contain coconut milk!). I have put some limits on processed food allowed in my house, but sometimes these junks still find a space in my freezers, or on days I am so hungry I can’t cook, we just had to resort to KFC.
The only solution is really, to prepare homemade food. If I keep telling myself that: There is no need to have rice every evening, or to cook elaborate dishes, or that my husband is not fussy about whatever he eats, or that I am not guilty for not having ‘proper’ dinners for my son as someone else would, I may be able to cook more often.
It all comes down to me.
Well, who says knocking the door to Paradise is that easy?