I pulled my favorite scarf—a black and brown pashmina—from its hook, and draped it on my crown. With the tips of my fingers, I nervously swirled the soft fabric around my face, carefully weaving each fold beneath my chin and around my shoulders. My mane escaped in protest, but I was thankful for its coverage, if only to hide the unease I’d created for myself.
Then I scaled the wall of my comfort zone, glanced behind me to bid it adieu, and launched myself over the edge.
My comfort zone is a thing of beauty—a place of familiarity and control. A place free of stress and fear. A cozy compound of things-known, have-dones, and complete certainty, where macaroni and cheese flows like liquid gold and friends exist with warm hugs. Where the unknown is kept at bay, and I rest peacefully knowing scary things like change can’t reach me. But growth does not happen here, and I am much too stubborn to stay.
I have a habit of making myself uncomfortable.
Upon breaching singlehood, my desire to ‘do’ escalated, perhaps as a result of needing distraction, and a fear of becoming static. Saying ‘yes’ (terrified or not) suddenly transformed every moment of hesitation into an opportunity for knowledge and growth. The benefit to my doing far exceeded the monotony of abstaining. Because regardless of the outcome, life was lived. A lesson was learned. I became more fearless.
Nothing was off-limits.
So, I took a salsa class. I attended gallery openings, concerts, and plays. I went camping. I learned to shoot. I bought a bike. I played sports. I threw parties, made food, mixed drinks. I travelled. I was inked. I ran races. I lifted. I enrolled in a motorcycle safety course, having no prior experience, and learned to ride, because I could. I pushed myself.
This sounds like a quarter-life crisis, but I’m not done.
Years ago, I became pro-adventure. I decided that, when confronted with something that makes me squirm, I’d make the conscious decision to override my instinctive retreat. That I would convert fear to fuel, and do the scary thing anyway knowing some good could come of it. A ‘more fight, less flight’ approach to living; my only opponent being myself. Because at the end of fear lives knowledge, for which my thirst is insatiable.
This is no easy feat, even for an extrovert.
I arrived at the mosque in the early evening, drenched in sweat and much too punctual for my own good. I was 15 minutes early for an appointment with the Imam, armed with a novel’s worth of questions, and completely horrified by the thought of accidentally offending. I was miles from my comfort zone in territory so foreign I could barely function.
I leaned my head against my steering wheel in an effort to calm myself; intimidation kept me pinned. Courage pulled me out. I nervously shuffled to the entrance, and paused. Above the door read:
“And say my Lord (Allah) advance me in knowledge.”
Over the past five months, I’ve quietly immersed myself in a topic I long ago deemed most squirm-worthy; religion. Why Islam, I’ll keep for myself, but its roots paralleled my morals and my beliefs, and offered an unexpected outlet for both. So I read, researched, questioned, and explored in an effort to better understand something so unfamiliar. In the process, I found immeasurable beauty.
“‘You’re new, aren’t you?’ It wasn’t so much a question as it was a statement. My turban, and my very exposed neck, gave me away. I felt like an alien. She told me I had lipstick on me teeth. We laughed, and I felt better.”
—Just Keep Swimming, 6.13.15
As a greater component of my journey, I committed to fasting for the month of Ramadan—a thoroughly daunting task for someone so far removed. But I wanted to feel this.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. It’s observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting to commemorate the first revelation of the Qur’ān to Muhammad according to Islamic belief, typically lasting 29-30 days based on the visual sightings of the crescent moon. From dawn until sunset, Muslims refrain from consuming food and drinking liquids (yes, even water), and partake in extensive prayer, recitation, and charity. It’s a month-long period of abstinence from bad deeds, and an opportunity to grow closer to Allah. An experience once described to me as a vacation for the soul.
So, for 30 days, I fasted.
Each morning I’d rise at 3:30 a.m. for breakfast, usually consisting of homemade strawberry yogurt and oatmeal popsicles, 24 ounces of water, and if I could choke it down, an English muffin with peanut butter. So early, because dawn is not sunrise; it’s the appearance of the first thread of silver to breach the horizon which, roughly, was 4:14 a.m.
Birds are wondrous indicators of time.
“There’s a special kind of anxiety that comes with wondering if you’ve done enough to feed and hydrate yourself to last 18 hours of daylight without both.”
—Just Keep Swimming, 6.24.15
Around 9:19 p.m., I broke each fast with sunset; a glass of milk, some dates, and prayer. My meals were elaborate and delicious; wholesome and nourishing for the body. My taste buds were heightened; food tasted incredible. Each bite was a delicacy. And despite full days of fasting, I never felt starvation. I never ached for water (except once). It was never oppressive. You and your body adjust.
My tea steeper; stowed. My lunch hour; nap time. My social engagements; walks instead of dinners. My outlets and vices; abandoned. Instead of vigorous exercise, I clung to writing, meditation, and novels. I was quiet, almost recluse. Because Ramadan is an impressive test of discipline, and will power, and strength.
“This experience is so much more emotionally taxing than I expected. Strip yourself of food, drink, sleep and all of your vices—nail biting, exercising, alcohol, and physical contact—and you’re left with only yourself. Despite all of it, I still feel lightness.”
—Just Keep Swimming, 6.24.15
It required patience.
Father’s day fell during Ramadan. Independence Day fell during Ramadan. My birthday fell during Ramadan. All of which were heavily food-laden. But nothing felt like sacrifice. This act of submission was powerful, and the experience was incomparable, proffering so much personal growth and benefit. Despite my excitement for the return of breakfast, lunch, and fitness, I’m genuinely sad to see it go—this month was truly a blessing.
Now, if I’ve made you uncomfortable, good. Welcome to living so vicariously through me.
But rest assured, this is not about religion—it’s about knowledge. It’s about the importance of having the courage to ask questions. It’s about challenging your perspective. It’s about breaching the boundaries of your comfort zone, and pushing yourself. It’s about growth.
And this journey is far from over.
The anxiety of the unknown is fleeting, and a poor excuse for dismissing adventure. I want to do, see, feel, experience as much as possible, so that one day I can push my borders to the ends of the earth, and have the world as my playground.
So seek what alarms you; do not get comfortable.