The reason this slogan is effective is it touches our sore spots. In cognitive therapy for obesity, the role of a lack of tolerance for hunger is stressed (excluding when certain medical conditions are involved, such as hypoglycemia). In her book “The Beck Diet Solution,” Dr J. Beck includes a chapter titled “Develop a Power to Tolerate Hunger.” She writes: “If you are afraid of hunger, you may be eating continuously in order to avert this feeling. You don't have to eat as soon as you are hungry. You don't have to eat just because you want to eat something.” Beck's book contains lengthy passages explaining how patients are given the assignment of staying hungry in cognitive therapy for obesity.
Why are we afraid of hunger? Why do we hurriedly push biscuits, chocolate, crackers, cheese, bread or whatever we can salvage from the freezer into our mouths to satisfy our hunger without delay?
Actually, it is not we who fear hunger; it is our carnal soul (nafs). Existentially, impotence or weakness is the greatest threat to the carnal soul. In this age of narcissistic desire the carnal soul is encouraged to become strong, powerful and perfect. However, it is the nature of creation that man is destined to experience absolute weakness, fragility in the face of events and awareness of mortality, transience and, eventually, death.
Carnal souls have to deceive themselves in establishing relations with the world in order to obtain the world's benefits. They have to ignore the fact that they are actually weak and impotent, and at the same time they have to hide their transience behind a veil of heedlessness and indolence. If they didn't do this, how would this world seem sweet to them?
Carnal souls not only deceive themselves with a “self-assumed lordship” but are also self-seekers. Carnal souls do not pay the slightest heed to the other human faculties with which they coexist, such as spirit, reason, heart, emotion, body and conscience; rather, they focus solely on their own wishes and desires. Thus, they want to continue to eat even after they are full, or strive to nosh on something even if they are not hungry, and in doing so they don't care about resultant stomach bloating, weight gain, loss of bodily health or reduced mental capacity. They just hone in on their self-interest or the fleeting pleasures they will experience for a few minutes.
In sum, carnal souls detest helplessness or frailty and are addicted to pleasures and indulgence. Accordingly, hunger is their greatest enemy.
Hunger makes unwary carnal souls get down off their high horses. Hunger tears away the veil of heedlessness from carnal souls.
Carnal souls that give people the evil suggestion that they cannot withstand hunger and deceive them in this way do not like to be reminded that the human body is capable of bearing hunger.
Bediuzzaman Said Nursi depicts the impact of fasting in Ramadan on carnal souls as follows: “Fasting in the month of Ramadan awakens even the most heedless and obstinate to their weakness, impotence and want. ... So they abandon the soul's pharaoh-like despotism, and through recognizing their utter impotence and want, perceive a desire to take refuge at the Divine Court. And they prepare themselves to knock at the door of mercy with the hands of thankfulness. So long as heedlessness has not destroyed their hearts, that is.”
The relationship we establish with hunger is not restricted to fasting, of course. Yet it is a significant achievement to make our carnal soul experience our tolerance of hunger during fasting. Fasting in Ramadan teaches us that we have willpower. It is great that at this time we can say “stop” to whims and wishes of our carnal souls until the evening. And it is really a divine bliss to see that we have willpower and our carnal souls cannot dominate over us, and that if we use our will, the true master will be us, not our carnal souls. It is wonderful to experience this over and over again during the 30 days of fasting in Ramadan.
Our achievements in forbearing hunger and thirst during the holy month of Ramadan are so important for our spiritual life that it would be a great loss to toss them away at the end of Ramadan. I cannot find words to describe the importance of saying “stop” to our carnal soul when we long to eat something even when we are not fasting, and of making it a habit to eat only when we are truly hungry.
Tolerance to hunger and thirst -- whether fasting or not fasting -- makes us perceive the pleasure of being hungry. Indeed, when we experience hunger our carnal souls stop posing as God and understand their impotence, understanding the ultimate truth about themselves. Finding out this truth is a relief to carnal souls as they are saved from the burden of posing as God.
Fasting for Ramadan, in this context, is full-fledged therapy for our carnal souls. But this therapy should also be maintained after Ramadan by not eating when one is not truly hungry.
Hunger is beautiful. Leaving the table before being full is beautiful. Eating when one is really hungry is beautiful. Easting with a true appetite is beautiful. Not stuffing our stomachs beyond their capacity is beautiful. All of these things are beautiful, as fullness prevents man from realizing his weakness.
And complete and perfect beauty lurks in this weakness. Because we come from Him, and we can know Him only with our true selves.