The Polymath Project, S3 E8: Ramadan Reflections
The Islamic celebration of Eid al-Fitr marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan. In this episode of The Polymath Project, host Arman Rousta explores the opportunities for reflection, goal-setting, and self-discovery inherent in the holiday–opportunities that extend far beyond the Muslim community. In so doing, he provides tools and tips for how to identify defining moments in one’s life, and how to take advantage of those moments, lest they never appear again.
The video in its entirety can be viewed above, or accessed through the following, unabridged transcript.
Good afternoon everyone. Today is April 20th, 2023, the last day of Ramadan, this wonderful season. And it's been an incredible month for those of us in the community that I'm part of: going deeper and deeper into our work, our personal work. This is the month of retreat. This is the month of extra meditation, extra prayer, going deeper, going above and beyond wherever we were before, to get to a deeper place, to find the next thread, the next pathway in one's life journey. And the Sufi community that I'm part of—the Dergah al-Farah, the Nur Ashki Jerrahi Community with a base originally from Turkey, with roots going back before that, all the way to the Prophet in–has now branched off into two beautiful branches in the Western hemisphere, one here in New York, one in Mexico. The community I'm part of is based in New York.
The different Sufi groups for those that don't know, have different gifts and tools and practices that they utilize, that we utilize to access these deeper states and guidance; ways to connect with the higher power. And in my community, we focus on dreams and interpreting dreams. And our leader, Shaykha Fariha, is the master interpreter of dreams. So various members of the community have dreams and bring them to Shaykha. She will help them interpret those dreams. And it's something that we all have the power to do. And with some practice and with some deep reflection, and especially during this month of Ramadan, those dreams become more crystallized. And the ability to interpret them also–at least in my experience–gets more subtle.
And that perspective is like 30 days of having a clearer lens. Think about a camera or glasses. It's like, “Oh, wow, I can see things now that I knew were there before. There were shapes and colors there, but I'm actually seeing what it is now, and how it fits within the grand scheme of my life. You keep stepping back and back and having a clearer view of things that are more global, more universal, outside of our own, just generally limited and hyper-focused ways of thinking about our own life, our own chores, our own goals.”
Good cue for Timebug, our app. On Timebug, we don't just focus on our own goals, but also the goals of others. There are some new features we're working on with that product. For me, it's always been a question of how to be productive individually. That's a core responsibility. And we all want to be productive and get things done, and bring balance to that, and feel good, and feel actually energized while you're doing those things, which is a good cue. If you're getting energized and doing a lot, that's a good cue that you're on the quote-unquote “right track”, and on a purposeful way of living; in accordance with one's purpose. And we all come here in a varied way with different purposes, and dreams are one of those cues where you can find your purpose. We all need to find some source of guidance.
This month in particular, I've been waking up for the fast break before the sun–which is not typical for me–and finding in that channel, in that time period, just a really deep clarity. I'm recording the dreams that I have. I'm looking back at older dreams, which I never really went in as deep or understood, and I'm able to reinterpret them with a clearer lens. And I'm getting a number of clues and I have made a number of decisions, and I'm in the midst of personally evaluating some very, very significant challenges and opportunities. They’re these defining moments that I believe are windows and opportunities. Think about it like a train that shows up at a station. You can get on that train or not. It's a choice. But if you don't, that same train might not ever show up again. Or you might have to wait another year or two, or decade, or, in some ways of thinking, a lifetime to catch that same train, which is a good analogy and metaphor for our spiritual progress, or the direction that we want to take our lives. And these are very serious, serious matters, which is why this is such a beautiful month. And of course, we can continue to take those opportunities and lessons and get clarity in other times of the year.
And, like anything, there's a rhythm when we're just in a mode of doing things, based on the decisions we made. It's like, “All right: I got on this train now. I'm gonna ride it and pay attention to what I can learn on this journey. But I've chosen this journey, and I've gotta see it through; see it out.” So this is just a beautiful month for being on a journey, but at the same time, being on that platform and looking at that map of one's own life, one's own world, and determining which train you’re going to get on . . . which direction you’re going to go in. You can't be in that “in between space”, in that fear space of, “I'm not sure, so I'm just gonna stay here,” because that's exactly what happens. Then you just stay there, right? Or, “Man, that other place I came from was cool. Let me take the train in the other direction and go back. That was cool. It was familiar. I knew what was there in that town.” And there could be some logic to that, but to me, it generally feels like going backwards. Remember our key motivating tagline that I use often: March Forth! We've got to move forward, but we have to find the right direction of moving forward. And that needs to be based on some kind of real reasoned thinking and analysis. But some kind of deep level guidance and inspiration can come through dreams while we're sleeping, or can come through a real, deep, conscious waking state of reflection.
Recently I heard a talk by Steve Jobs of Apple in his younger years. He was in his early days talking about solving “the deep intellectual problems.” And that phrase stuck with me because he was talking about “doers” versus “visionaries”, “thinkers” versus “doers”, and saying it's actually the doers that matter most. Even though we try to give credit to the thinkers and the visionaries and the ideas, it’s the doers: the people that have their hands in the mud, that are getting things done, that are often the ones that are breaking new ground and innovating because they're there after the nice picture, the nice concept of, let's say, a new business idea— Basement Sports, any of the things we have going on are great conceptually—and then when you're down in the dirt in the code, looking at all the different things we're trying to do with different sports and games and users, it's in that doing, and in that detail, where those difficult intellectual problems come about.
And that's part of the process, right? It's not just a flash of inspiration and then just go, although some people are more just “go get the inspiration and go solve the problems later.” I do like that and support that idea of going when the motivation's strong. It's a balance, you know. It's really a balance, and I think it's situational to decide what to go for and when–without giving it much thought–and when to bring something into the inner temple, into the meditative chamber, and actually take your time to process with patience, without pressure, because the world applies so much pressure. And that daily rat race and our real daily responsibilities can apply pressure. The external environment applies pressure in our inner sanctuary, and this is really deeply a part of our hermetic work.
On the other side of the coin are these two different paths and works that I'm involved in, that help me give me the guidance and the strength that I need to understand what my purpose is in life, and how that applies to my work in entrepreneurship and business. But take things into that inner inner sanctuary, that inner chamber and process them, instead of just having a game of ping pong with our external environment. Instead of always hitting back and keeping that ball in play and being on that wheel, take things in, take our time, meditate. And within that meditation, contemplate those intellectual problems which could apply in our business world, or could apply in our personal life, or any relationship challenge or situation that we're looking to improve upon, or engage at a deeper level. So the question of the day I have for all of us–for you listening for, for myself–is, what are you willing to sacrifice? What are you willing to give up, give away, let go of?
This is something I'm working with right now internally. To go deeper into your purpose, to live deeper with truth, to get what you truly desire and want . . . it's like that train station, right? You might like that town, that place, those things. There's familiarity, but we've gotta move on. We've gotta be comfortable with constant change. And whatever you need to take with you is already with you and within you. That fear that comes up where we want to hold onto things. All of those things can be etched into our eternal memory, into our experience bank. It accumulates with us and within us, but we have to be willing and able to give things up in order to open up new doors, new opportunities. And it's a hard one. It's something I wrestle with in relation to having these different ventures, different companies . . . even different relationships. There's only so many things we can have in our wheelhouse, in our focal point, and in our sanctuary at the same time that we can give a deep amount of attention to.
We can think about it like children. I have one son. What if I had three kids, five kids, seven kids? The love can multiply and spread, but you would need to divide your attention. And then you build the family unit and realize that yes, it takes a village to raise a child. And if you have multiple children, you're building those bonds between them and you're getting that support. And also from an adult level and a community level, you're gonna need to engage the community for support.
So that analogy applies to our purpose with the Golden Square. We have multiple ventures that are different quote-unquote “companies,” but they're really connected by this ethos. They compliment each other, they serve each other, they support each other, they're stronger together. And that's how I reconcile that question to others that say, “Man, how do you do so many things? And how do you jump around? And are you losing focus? And are you not committed to the one because you're doing three or four?” I understand the question intellectually, but viscerally and spiritually, it's all in one, one and all for me. These are like the seven laws of nature, or the four quadrants of the soul. You’re not going to only focus on your intelligence and your mental process at the expense of your emotional process or your physical needs, right?
The organs of the body is another good analogy. Or the trillions of cells of the body. Right? So there's a way to take the idea of “multitude” and not let it be something fractured and disintegrated, but to understand that it's symphonic—if we can get the symphony to play together. If we can get the egos out of the way. Right? Dario Salas, my spiritual father, talks about it all the time: that we have this potential for a symphony amongst our organs, amongst ourselves, amongst all the different components within us.
And it takes a lot of work to do that. And the internal master must emerge from guidance, from inspiration, from these periods like Ramadan, from our dreams, in order to build that foundation, that internal leadership that can be the orchestrator of the orchestra, that can have a concept like Golden Square and explain to people how we actually need all these different products and programs because they all serve part of the purpose for this master vision of how we want to educate young people and families and bring to communities a new way of being; or really an old way of being that got lost, or seems to have gotten lost. I was having a conversation earlier today with one of my colleagues, Micah. We were talking about media, and social media, and how so much is polarized nowadays and fragmented.
On the one hand, there are some positive aspects to having more options on where we go to receive information or news or research. The internet has opened up the World Wide Web. We don't just have three channels on TV anymore. So in some ways, there's a lot more opportunity to access and be selective about what it is we want to learn or how we want to engage. And on the other hand, there's a lot of potential for fragmentation, and disintegration, and a lot of noise, and potential for confusion, misinformation, and disinformation. We've talked in a recent episode about ESG and what it means for social impact and sustainability.
And in this day and age the augmentation of all these social media platforms and these proliferated forms of communication have allowed a lot of ideas to be skewed, and it's hard for people in general to know what the truth is. That's where the retreat of fasting–not just Ramadan and dietary fasting, but let's say fasting from media, fasting from technology–becomes invaluable. We've talked about ideas like No Tech 50, going offline for periods of time, digital versus analog, and how important it is to get in tune and in touch with something deeper within ourselves, with direct relationships, belly to belly, really feeling people. It's very different to have a Zoom meeting, which is nice when you can see someone's face, but is still different than being in person, with someone in the same room, to see what energy they're exuding and that we're exuding, and how we're being affected by other human beings, other life forms in a physical space.
It's incredible how we spent two years almost being completely separated because of COVID and the pandemic and what was thrust upon us because of it, and because of the way many governments reacted. Most governments responded not in ways that I agreed with at all–and I've communicated this in various ways–but it happened, and we're here on the other side, and I don't say that to excuse anything, but reference it now to highlight how impactful it was for people not to be able to be in person with their loved ones, with their friends. I personally took it as an opportunity for more deep introspection and self-retreat and was able to gain a lot from it. Not everyone was able to take it that way. And it's something that is a good reference point for us to appreciate the time we can have together, and also to really think strongly about who we want to be in the presence of . . . who inspires us . . . who can help us get guidance . . . Maybe we have a mentor or a family member that we can talk to in person that can help us clarify and solve some of those intellectual problems . . . help us understand what our fears are, and what it is that we feel we may need to sacrifice in order to buy that ticket, or be confident enough to buy that ticket and get on that next train.
So what does that next train look like for you? For me, for all of us, it's a personal, individual choice. Hopefully it's not a train that just goes in a big loop and comes back to the same place, although of course you get some experience going around that loop and seeing what's on it. But in this analogy, in this metaphor, we're again trying to March Forth and move forward and also move deeper within. As above, so below. As within, so without . . . one of the hermetic axioms.
So I want to start wrapping up on that note of realizing that life and nature and the messages we get are perfect. Ultimately, they're perfect. Nature has a perfect system. We've been blessed to have this opportunity, and the opportunity doesn't last forever. As noted, the window isn't open forever. We do have to–with consciousness and awareness and some processing–decide what we're going to do, where we're going to go, which train we’re going to get on!
And if that was a forced decision or a rushed decision and we got on the wrong train going the wrong way, life will show us that. And you'll realize, “Man, this doesn't feel. So let me get off at the next station. I'm gonna have some work to do. Now it's going to take longer, but I’ve got to go back the other way. I was scared to do it or I didn't pay attention and I ended up taking a wrong turn.” Life will course-correct as long as we continue to seek that GPS, that internal GPS, and be honest about where we've lost time, and where we have enough urgency, and enough fire and clarity. And when we have that clarity, don't waste that opportunity.
So with that said on this last day of Ramadan, with the Eid celebration coming up, I wish and pray for myself and for everyone listening that we could gain greater clarity in whatever way we need. So with that new lens of clarity, look at your map, see the schedule of what trains are coming to the station, and get on the one that's going to get you closer to where you need to go.
I wish you well.