Several years ago, I trained for and completed a marathon, a road race 26.2 miles (40 kilometers) in length.
During my training, several coaches warned me about hitting the “wall,” the point in the race where one’s mind and body simply start to shut down. While each runner encounter this “wall” at a different time, it is most common to hit it somewhere after the half-way mark.
By this time, one is physically and emotionally tired, the end is still far from sight, and just putting one foot in front of the other can seem almost impossible.
The “wall” phenomenon is both physical and psychological, and can apply to many aspects of our lives.
How many of us have burnt out in the middle of the school year, or half-way through working on a big project? How often does the urge to quit something, or at least to slack off a bit, become overwhelming?
Many Muslims began the month eager to read Quran, to stand in prayer, to perfect their fasting by exhibiting patience and perseverance, to give generously to those in need and purify themselves of bad habits. However, often around this time in the month, many of us begin to feel physically and emotionally drained—we may be hitting the Ramadan “wall.”
The last ten nights of Ramadan, with all their added blessings and virtues are here, but our focus and concentration may have already started to dwindle. How can we prevent these precious moments of Ramadan from slipping through our fingers?
Sometimes we have to train ourselves to overcome the negative thoughts that can prevent us from finishing at our best. Here are three strategies to get over the wall, and finish the month spiritually stronger than we began it.
Renew Our Intentions
Islam teaches us that actions are according to their intentions. When we get tired, sometimes we start going through the motions and leave our intentions on the side. We forget to bring to our acts of worship that internal dimension that gives them meaning.
By renewing our intentions, whether it be in our fasting, our prayers, or recitation of Quran, or anything else, we help bring back the spiritual energy into acts that can otherwise become routine. Everything we do in Islam is meant to reflect back on the state of our hearts and increase our connectedness to Allah. Renewing our intentions helps make this a reality.
Focus on Priorities
Life doesn’t stop during Ramadan—work and school schedules often continue at the same pace as before the month began. Some of us have increased family commitments this month, while others may get preoccupied with plans for Eid. It can be easy to get distracted.
Days and nights start to slip away and instead of feeling like we’re advancing spiritually, we may feel like we’ve already fallen too far behind.
Prioritizing our time during this last half of Ramadan can make a big difference in how we feel when we finish the month.
While we can’t stop life from happening around us, postponing non-urgent matters until after Ramadan gives us the mental clarity to focus on the things that are more important.
Prioritizing helps clear our minds so that we may focus on ourselves and our relationship with Allah, and engage in acts of worship with better concentration. In this way, we can finish Ramadan spiritually stronger than we began it.
Remind Ourselves of the Goal
Allah Almighty tells us that He prescribed fasting upon us so that we may attain taqwa–consciousness of Allah and the desire to shield ourselves from that which displeases Him.
A lot of times we think of taqwa as something we develop for Allah’s sake, but in reality, taqwa is about protecting ourselves. As the Quran emphasizes in so many verses, any wrong we do is ultimately wrong we do to ourselves. It harms our ability to find peace and happiness in this life and the next.
When asked about taqwa, the Prophet Muhammad pointed to his heart and said three times:
“Taqwa is here.”
So by extension, our goal in Ramadan through fasting is to rectify the states of our hearts. It’s as if we are building spiritual muscle every time we restrain ourselves from eating or drinking so that our heart becomes stronger in the face of the desires of our bodies.
This increased spiritual muscle helps us overcome desires for things that are more abstract—the desire for wealth in impermissible ways, the desire for power for its own sake, the desire to be seen, heard, or admired by others, the desire to lie, cheat or act immorally.
Our goal is to emerge from Ramadan with hearts that are strong enough to keep fighting against these desires throughout the year.
Spiritual muscle, just like physical muscle, takes work and effort to build. When we start to lose steam and think about quitting the race, let us remember that any effort we put into improving the states of our hearts now, will helps us not only complete the month of Ramadan, but run a stronger course throughout the year.
On those days when we feel tired, distracted, or like our hearts are uninvolved, let us remember that getting over the wall is as much psychological as it is physical.
Let us renew our intentions, prioritize our time, and remember our goals.
Finishing a race is a wonderful feeling, but perhaps the most wonderful things is to finish tired, aching and out of breath, knowing that you gave it your absolute best.
(From Discovering Islam’s archive.)