Due to back, knee, hip and shoulder injuries I’ve been spending a bit of time at the Birkum (hot) yoga studio. Positioning my mat and straightening my specially designed hot yoga towel just so has become kind of a ritual for me and it got me thinking about the Islamic call to prayer. I’m not exactly sure where the connection is, perhaps it’s the rolling out of the yoga mat and the rolling out of the prayer rug, but anyway it got me thinking.
It seems to me that Islamic religion has done two things right: one is it encourage its adherents to occasionally (five times a day I think) stop what they are doing and to “get their mind right,” and secondly it incorporates fasting into its traditional rituals.
Imagine if all those sandbox Caesars on Wall Street as well as all those underperforming overpaid auto and bank execs had stopped every few hours and took five minutes to reflect and get their mind right. I’d wager that we wouldn’t be in the mess that we’re in right now. The world moves so fast that it seems like once you’re on the wrong path it becomes increasingly difficult to get off. Worse yet, the longer you’re on the wrong path the more vehemently you defend and attempt to justify that path no matter how wrong and misguided it is. I’m sure in the end good old Bernie Madoff was doing all kinds of mental gymnastics to internally justify his actions, but imagine if, fifteen years ago, he had stopped every few hours and spent five minutes contemplating. Perhaps Madoff is a bad example, I imagine him to be rotten to the core, but for most of us I’d imagine a few minutes of contemplation every day would do us good. Isn’t prayer, for the most part, formalized contemplation?
Fasting is another good way to get your mind right. It’s hard to be empathetic on a full stomach. Before the invention of industrialized farming I would wager that every human, outside of royalty, experienced serious hunger at least once in their lifetime. “There but for the grace of God go I” was a way of understanding the world and one’s connection to it. In the absence of traditional feast and famine cycles it seems important that we occasionally step out of our comfortable world and become a little hungry. We should all strive to go through life with open eyes, but how can you truly see when your belly is perpetually full.