Monday, July 21, 2014

No Abstain, No Gain

It's that time of the year again. Where Muslims all around the world - whether you're Shiite, Sunni or the type who secretly takes a swig of whiskey in the dark of night - take the month off to fast every day from the break of dawn till the fall of dusk. It's one of the most daunting type of fast - no food, no water (no swallowing of saliva - no cheating, okay?). Though I'm no Muslim, I've always fancied giving it a try. Then I think to myself: "Why only fast? Why not abstain?" 

Abstinence, in essence, means staying away from things that you're addicted to, and you crave for, almost on a daily basis - but which you truly can do without. It's a method of "eliminating unnecessary desires"Abstinence is tough, because it hits each of us where it's really painful. But look pass the pain, and you find that there's a lot to gain from abstinence.

Here are a few basic things that you can start doing less of...

1. Social Network

It's getting noisy, crowded and simply stifling. You can browse Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in the comforts of your home, behind closed doors, where no one is looking. But your alter-ego, your shadow, a big chunk of yourself, is out there on the cyberspace, forever being seen, scrutinised and judged. Private messages, photo tagging, friend requests, comments - it's a constant drag to keep up with this alternate reality. It's like being trapped in a non-stop moving train 24-hours, even when you're dozing.

Take a break. Don't quit. Just take some time off from these sites. I barely check my Twitter account nowadays (which I mostly use to follow news updates anyway, and not engage in silly #hashtag conversations). Last year, I deactivated from Facebook for more than 3 months. And believe me, it was one of the most refreshing moment of my life. Ah, the freedom...

Don't stay away forever, of course. The social network is still a good platform to connect with people, and bathe yourself in the throes of attention and affirmation (yes, we all do). Take a break, that's all. The break will do you good. You'll stop yourself from rotting into a 'thought zombie'. And you'll return as a renewed, enlightened soul.

Leaving Facebook is like escaping from a maximum security prison

Stop playing with my feelings, Facebook!

2. Games

I used to play games. Like a lot. Computer games like Counter-strike, Starcraft, Championship Manager, FIFA, Fallout Warcraft, Dota etc. I would spend 6-7 hours a day playing multi-player games at cybercafes. I would stare at the computer screen in the wee hours of morning killing monsters and putting in a transfer bid for Zlatan Ibrahimovic. And such habits die hard. Even upon attaining adulthood, many of us can't seem to shake off the addiction.

For the last few years, I have managed to curb my addiction. I've never own a Playstation or Nintendo Wii, and don't expect one for Christmas either. My personal laptop doesn't have a single game installed on it, nor does it have good enough specs to support the latest games, anyway. On my phone, I got hooked onto 'Words With Friends' (a 1-on-1 game akin to 'Scrabble'), but deleted it after a a few weeks as I realised my competitive streak was sapping much of my mental energies (I remember having a ridiculous 27-3 win-loss record, keeping track of the number of tiles per alphabets, trying to guess my opponent's hidden tiles in hand by the previous moves they made).

Candy Crush? Angry Birds? Clash Of Clans? Never tried, don't give a shit. I have better things to do with my free time.

3. Movies & Serials

Serial marathon is an easy way to kill time. So is watching movies on weekends. It's a step away from reality, into the exotic world of fantasy. Feeding our primal desires for gore and sex in 'Games Of Thrones'. Giggling at senseless sexual shenanigans and crying over she-loves-me-she-loves-me-not dramas in 'How I Met Your Mother'. Gushing on spoilers like a dazed fanboy over the next 'Avengers' movie.

Movies and serials have a way to suck you in, and dominate your social conversations. Once upon a time, I treated 'Friends' and the 'Star Wars' franchise like a religion, ritualistically watching reruns years after their happy endings. But the novelty's gone. Stories are recycled (how many more teen vampire sagas do we need, seriously?), humour is juvenile, and physics-defying CGI is killing any semblance of reality in movies. I've not watched a series for more than a year, and I can count the number of times I went to the cinema this year with a single hand.

Cut down on movies and serials. Saves your precious time, and your precious brain cells. Bored? Read a book, take a walk in the park and meet your loved ones. There are much more interesting stories out there, more so if it's one of your own making. Live life fully, not vicariously.

Hollywood's adaptation of 'The Hobbit' puts forth the novel concept of 'a word paints a thousand pictures'.

4. Alcohol

If you're Muslim, this doesn't apply to you - unless of course you're the kind who interprets holy laws rather loosely. For the rest of the world, alcohol is a beloved part of our culture. Even Jesus Christ made a toast to his apostles with a chalice of wine during the 'Last Supper', moments before he was arrested and killed.

The ingredients of most alcoholic beverages seem harmless enough - grape, barley, rice, etc. In controlled doses, they can induce happy vibes. But taken excessively, they can cause severe memory loss, irrational behaviour and things you will regret later on the next morning (which, in my case, is mitigated by the severe memory loss).

I have a strict rule. I don't drink on weekdays and Sundays, except if there's a special occasion or a holiday (#WhoGoesOutOnMondays). I'm a responsible drinker - for 5 days a week, at least.

5. Shopping

I hardly ever shop, as much as I enjoy to. Again, it's due to self-restraint. Shopping cultivates greed. The thing about shopping is that we're often caught by the 'look-good, feel-good' spark flickering brightly in our eyes and hearts momentarily, only to fade away days later, like a capricious crush - the result of which we accumulate things we hardly ever use.

Hence, I've conditioned myself to shop wisely, not impulsively. Less things need not mean less variety - hunt for things that can be used for different styles and seasons. Don't buy the same thing in two different colours. We all like to be collectors - cars, toys, shoes, bags, wine, etc. We like to have our own private museum and gallery. Same for me. The difference is, many of us treat collecting as a lifelong quest, but I don't. Many don't know when to stop, but I do.

Don't be suckered into cheap bargains, don't shop for the sake of 'retail therapy'. Most of us can't muster resolve when window shopping. The solution is easy. Don't walk into a shop. Don't read fashion mags. Be like me - don't even visit a mall for weeks long. You can't crave for something you don't know exist.

Must resist... must stop at three...

Abstinence Is Excellence

Why abstain? Why bear the pain of abstaining? What is there to gain from abstaining?

A lot of things. Focusing your time and resources on the things that matter. Kicking out ruinous habits that you can live without. Breaking out from the tedium of your same old routine, whilst broadening your experience. Be less of a consumer, and more of a creator.

The things we are addicted to might seem fun at first. But the pain comes later. Where did time go? What if I had done more of that, instead of this? Why didn't I stop all this nonsense earlier? The pain of regret is great. For regret only comes when mistakes have long passed and cannot be remedied.

Abstain now, while you still have a lot left of life to gain from.


  1. Your view on fasting and abstinence is absolutely refreshing. Especially coming from a non-Muslim like yourself. I think the whole idea of fasting is not wholly understood and appreciated by Muslims. To me, merely avoiding to eat and drink from dusk till dawn during the month of Ramadan does not capture the essence of what my religion asks of me. Abstinence from other desires is key as well. For me, it's avoiding daily Instagram-ing and 'random' browsing of photos of ermm..male models, for example. I could actually expand further on the subject matter of fasting but I'll stop at this juncture in order to avoid any religious misunderstandings/misinterpretations.

    p/s: I really LOL-ed at your Championship Manager reference, because I too, was once addicted to CM haha. At the height of my addiction, I was actually playing two different sets of seasons (two teams concurrently - Barcelona and Lazio) on two separate devices - one on my dad's laptop (in the living room), one on the family computer (in my brother's room). Easily 8 hours of my life were wasted every day. Be that as it may, I still have very fond memories of my CM days! :)

  2. You're right. I think a lot of people - including non-Muslims who fast in their own way - lose sight of the essence behind it. There's something wrong about fasting, I feel, if it gives people an excuse to have extravagant and excessive buffets at the end of the day, and succumb to the sin of greed and gluttony. Likewise, I object to the commercialism of Christmas. But lest I be accused of being religiously insensitive, I did not want to dwell too much on the 'dark side' of fasting, and instead focus on the 'positives' of abstinence.

    High-five! I was also addicted to CM to the brink of losing touch with reality. Fortunately, one day, my computer crashed, and my entire saved game was wiped out (more than 10 seasons worth of legacy). For days, I mourned. Then I realised it was a blessing in disguise. I stopped playing, and came back to reality.