I’ve been waking up before sunrise for the past week, thanks to the combination of two very special things: a breastfeeding five-month-old (who has a sumo-wrestler-style diet regimen) and the start of Ramadan, the holy month where Muslims get up very early to eat breakfast in the dark and fast until sunset.
I’m not fasting this year, because I’m still nursing my sumo-baby, but I have been trying to wake up for a special morning prayer called Tahajjud that’s offered before sunrise. In previous Ramadans, I’d go straight back to sleep afterwards, but, this year, my son has made it particularly hard to return to bed because he thinks 4am is his designated playtime.
And, while watching the sunrise and listening to spring's buoyant birdsong, I’ve once again been reminded that early mornings are imbued with a distinctive magic that is perfect for managing the mind and clarifying life's fog of worries.
For me, it’s the stillness of the hour before dawn that I love, where the darkness feels like a friend, a companion that gently carries me into the first moments of the day. The fresh, featherlight air is waiting to be filled with whatever I wish to fill it with. There’s no effort to remember what’s on my to-do list, because nothing needs doing right now. Instead, I have time – the time to listen to my internal voice and to tend to my mind. Because it’s only in the silence, in the quiet time, that we can hear the forgotten tone of our own voice, the one that’s been forcefully hushed by the previous day’s relentless racket of bills and business and bodies and babies. Here, we are free to break down. And free to rise up. Nobody is watching in these stop-gap moments, and no one is asking or expecting anything from us.
Isn’t it time to pause for thought? And isn’t the morning the best place to do it? That’s what Ramadan is for me. It’s pressing the reset button, taking a breather
At dawn, everything is pared back and slowed down for me. Harsh noises, responsibilities and pinging mobiles are replaced with the gentle sounds of a boiling kettle and a cooing baby. I can have a cup of tea and do nothing (or everything). I can get a head start on the day without the usual rush. I have planning time, like the first 10 minutes of an exam, when you’re supposed to outline the structure of your essay and think about what you want to include. I feel cosseted by the Earth and I have the time to consider my place in it and ask myself a simple question that often gets lost amid the day’s duties: who do I want to be?
This was a question I once posed to a group of university students during a lecture on journalism. First, I told them about freelancing and pitching, how to handle criticism and payment rates. But then I reminded them that while they figured out what they wanted to be, to never lose sight of who they wanted to be. To remember that their work should be a practical extension of their internal character, because it’s only when the mind meets matter, when a thought turns into a deed, that it becomes palpable and real. If there’s a mismatch between the person that you want to be and the person you are inadvertently becoming, that tiny discrepancy will grow and the real you will be swallowed up into the aperture. That dissonance is what makes our minds turn into overwhelming jungles, instead of established gardens.
The thing is we often forget about all that. We don’t tend to our minds because there’s too much stuff to deal with first. Too much news, too much heartache, too much misfortune, too much to do. We’re startled awake by foghorn alarm clocks, we dash into the shower after checking social media, we stuff breakfast into our mouths while prepping lunch boxes and finding lost PE kits, and we run for the bus while our shoes rub on to yesterday’s blisters. We have lots of things to do and we do them at the cost of forgetting who we are.
Isn’t it time to pause for thought? And isn’t the morning the best place to do it? That’s what Ramadan is for me. It’s pressing the reset button, taking a breather, regrouping and reconnecting with the personal (and, in my case, with a higher power). It’s allowing yourself to feel like you’re a miniscule part of a big, beautiful universe, while simultaneously realising that little old you matters – that you are one in a million and the million is in you.
Lots of us feel lost in our jumbled minds. Lots of us are bungling our way through love and life tangled in anxieties and fears, but we can rise together with the dawn. As the sun rises, we can rise. The magic of the morning will help us to muster the courage.